Eritrea has begun a nationwide lockdown for 21 days to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The announcement came after the health ministry reported three new cases of the virus, putting the total number of infected individuals at 18.

One of them is a 13-year-old girl, who contracted the disease from her mother who had been abroad.

The other two patients had also arrived in the country before a ban on commercial flights, the health ministry said.

During the lockdown, all citizens in the one-party state and highly-militarised state, including public sector employees, must stay at home.

One member of each household is allowed to go out to buy essential food items during the day from grocery stores, which can remain open.

Pharmacies and banks are also continuing to provide services, but other trading activities and weekly markets have been stopped.

However, those living in rural areas engaged in farming are exempt from the lockdown as they are involved in food production.

Construction and trucking would also continue to function, the health ministry said.

The lockdown might “entail considerable hardships on the daily lives of citizens”, it admitted.

But the gravity of threat caused by the pandemic meant there was no other option, it said.

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