With a focus on responses to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in Ethiopia and on political developments that have occurred in the country during the pandemic, this article contributes to the existing scholarship that explores the relationship between health and politics. Drawing on qualitative data from the project ‘COVID-19 Impact Tracing in Ethiopia: Social, Economic, Political, and Security Ramifications’, carried out in the Tigray, Amhara and Oromia Regional States (RS) from June to September 2020, we offer new empirical and theoretical perspectives that shed light on the political status of health and health policies in Ethiopia and beyond. In all the three regions, COVID-19 and the government’s pandemic response was subject to politicization and securitization. The degree of securitization and politicization differed between the regions and fluctuated over time; in areas with strong opposition to political authorities, the COVID-19 mitigating efforts were—during the first phase of the pandemic—more politicized and securitized than in areas with less opposition. Yet, as the political opposition and instability increased, threatening national security and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political project, the authorities and the public paid increasingly less attention to the pandemic and the mitigating policies. In our analysis of these dynamics, we draw on a classic distinction that scholars of global public health have borrowed from political science: that of ‘low’ and ‘high’ politics. We argue that a contextually situated use of the high/low distinction allows us to recognize the fleeting and context-dependent nature of health’s political status, providing valuable insights that help us understand the ways that health emerges and disappears as high politics. The temporal and inter-regional shifts that appeared in, and as a response to, Ethiopia’s pandemic policies illustrate the importance of a continuous analysis of the relationships between health and politics at national as well as at sub-national levels.