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Lesotho declares Coronavirus a health emergency

Limpho Sello

Lesotho has declared Coronavirus a health emergency and the Ministry of Health has begun the necessary processes of mobilising human and other resources as well as screening incoming travellers to ensure the deadly virus does not enter the country.

This was announced by the Director General of Health Services, Dr Nyane Letsie, at a press conference in Maseru this week. The announcement comes six days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the virus a global public health emergency.

Nearby Botswana had its first suspected case of the disease last Friday. A statement released by that country’s Ministry of Health and Wellness indicates that the suspected number of Coronavirus has since increased to five.

According to the WHO, Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

On 31 December 2019, the WHO was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. One week later, on 7 January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a novel coronavirus (nCoV) — a new strain that had not been previously identified in human beings.  At least 213 people in the China have died from the virus.

Lesotho’s Health ministry said in a recent statement that symptoms of the virus include a running nose, headaches, coughing, sore throat, fever, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties and a general feeling of being unwell.

The ministry said the virus can be particularly dangerous to the elderly and infants as it may affect the respiratory tract.

“For the elderly and very young and those with a weakened immune system, the virus can cause more severe lower respiratory tract illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis,” the Health ministry said.

Since the discovery of the new virus in China, that country’s health authorities said there were 7711 confirmed cases as of 29 January 2020. Infections have also spread to at least 15 other countries.

This week, Dr Letsie said the declaration of the health emergency would enable the government would enable the country to mobilise the necessary human and material resources to ensure the virus does not enter the country.

Dr Letsie said her ministry had put in place equipment and trained personnel to at all the nine designated ports of entry especially Moshoeshoe I International Airport.

“The public needs to know that this country aligns itself with the WHO guidelines which means in all port of entries we have started screening incoming travellers.

“The hotspots for screening are airports in every country so at the Moshoeshoe I International Airport our port health officers are there with their protective gear and screening equipment to screen all travellers coming in,” Dr Letsie said.

In a recent interview with this publication, the Senior Health Inspector in the Port Health Programme, Ephraim Lekoeneha, said following the outbreak the country has now put in place the strong surveillance measures at the ports of entry especially the Moshoeshoe I International Airport to screen incoming and outgoing travellers.

Mr Lekoeneha said all the travellers coming in from the affected countries will have to be quarantined for at least 14 days for the health officials to run full test s to ascertain whether or not they have the virus.

“It is very crucial to ensure that we strengthen our surveillance,” Mr Lekoeneha said, adding there was currently no vaccine or treatment for the virus.

“Wash hands often and thoroughly with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands. Practice cough etiquette by covering the mouth and nose during coughing or sneezing.

“Avoid close contact with people who are sick and may have travelled to the affected areas. If you are mildly sick, consult the nearest health facility then keep yourself hydrated, stay at home and rest. Severe disease may require referral to the next level of care and hospitalisation for further management.”

For his part, WHO Representative to Lesotho, Dr Richard Banda, said according to the available data two percent of those infected by the Coronavirus have died, adding that there was a need to pay uttermost attention because of the severity of the number of cases that the virus can cause.

“This outbreak is very serious therefore the declaration calls for a coordinated approach in terms of responding and also the other implication is that the country and all of use must be held accountable in terms of the public health measures that we put in place,” Dr Banda said.

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