THE festive season is upon us. In a week or so, thousands of Basotho will be streaming into the country, mainly from South Africa, for the Christmas and New Year holidays. No one begrudges them quality time with their loved ones particularly after a hard year due to the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
But this annual trek home comes with the risk of an exponential rise in infections. Everyone- from the authorities to the returning residents- must play their part to ensure we avoid a repeat of last year’s scenario where thousands of people were allowed into the country without presenting valid Covid-19 certificates or being tested for the virus.
Unsurprisingly, the December madness was followed by a huge spike in infections. Hospitals struggled to cope and deaths increased. Left without a choice, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro then introduced a hard lockdown. Among other things, cross-border and inter-district travel were all banned.
A dusk to dawn curfew was enforced. Many industries, including the textile factories were either forced to close shop or massively scale down operations and only operate with skeletal staff. People were only allowed out of their homes to buy groceries or to access medical care.
The country resembled a huge prison due to the massive, yet necessary restrictions on civil liberties and freedoms.
The toll on the economy was devastating and it continues to be felt even now as some companies failed to reopen even after the restrictions were lifted. The strain was just too much for them.
There is no doubt that the situation also took a social toll affecting people’s mental health.
Since then, the country has made huge strides towards containing the virus. The infection rate is well below the five percent ‘’crisis’’ benchmark set by World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
The Ministry of Health has since rolled out a mass vaccination programme with the ultimate aim of achieving herd immunity in the population. When this is attained, we are told we will not be imposing the lockdowns which have crippled the economy.
We urge people to throng the vaccination centres around the country in their thousands to get jabbed. We urge the nation to continue observing all protocols including maintaining social distancing, wearing face masks at all times when in public spaces.
As we approach the festive season, we also call upon the authorities and all Basotho to avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle where thousands of people streamed into the country without presenting valid Covid-19 certificates or without being tested for the deadly virus.
As ancient wisdom has it, a burnt child dreads fire. We were certainly ‘burnt’ by last year’s experience. It would therefore be madness on our part to repeat the same behaviour while expecting a different result.
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As we already know, another more infectious Covid variant was detected in South Africa and Botswana less than a month ago.
So far, we don’t have any reports of the new Omicron variant. But that has not stopped the United Kingdom, European Union, United States and several other countries from imposing travel bans on us and the rest of the southern African countries.
We need to be vigilant and avoid a repeat of last year’s debacle as this would lead to a crippling lockdown in the event that we import infections from South Africa this festive season.
As reported by the Sunday Express in its latest edition, a new lockdown imposed to contain the spread of Covid-19 infections fuelled by the Omicron variant would certainly drive-up Lesotho’s already high unemployment rates and consequently worsen food insecurity in the Kingdom.
This according to the latest country report on the food security situation in Lesotho by the Famine Early Warning Systems (FEWS Net).
In its latest report published last week, FEWS NET reiterates that “(Food) Crisis outcomes are expected to persist through the “lean season” (October 2021 to April 2022) in the southern areas of the country and Stressed outcomes are expected for the rest of the country in the coming months”.
The report notes that although food insecurity in Lesotho has generally been fuelled by poor harvests due to poor climatic conditions and lack of employment opportunities, it has been worsened over the past year by the global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdowns and the resultant bans on cross-border travel between Lesotho and South Africa, which traditionally offers Basotho employment opportunities, has compounded food insecurity, the report states.
Things could get worse if a new lockdown is imposed to deal with the threat posed by the Omicron variant, the report states.
“Food insecurity is predominantly driven by prolonged high levels of unemployment in Lesotho and South Africa due to the economic slowdown associated with the Covid-19 pandemic as well as above-average food prices.
“Another wave of Covid-19 associated with the new (Omicron) variant could lead to new restrictions potentially driving extended and higher levels of unemployment,” FEWS Net states.
The writing is therefore very clear on the wall. We can’t afford a repeat of last year. Everyone coming into the country will have to produce valid Covid-19 certificates indicating that they are free of the virus. Those without such certificates would have to be tested before being allowed entry. The security agencies would have to redouble their efforts to ensure people don’t stream into the country through unofficial entry points.
We owe it to ourselves to do the right thing.