THIS week marked the start of a nationwide lockdown ordered by the government to curb the spread of the deadly Coronavirus pandemic which has infected more than 800 000 people worldwide and killed about 40 000, with many more casualties appearing inevitable.
Lesotho has hitherto been spared of the mayhem. But we cannot afford any complacency. The fact of being hemmed on all sides by South Africa, which has escalating infections, and in light of our own lack of testing resources to take stock of our own infections levels, we remain severely exposed.
All Basotho and everyone else resident in this kingdom must thus heed the lockdown order and stay at home.
As announced by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane, the movement of people will be highly restricted throughout the lockdown. Except for those engaged in essential services the rest of the nation should stay at home until 21 April 2020. We hope by then the situation would have normalised around the world and in neighbouring South Africa which presents our greatest threat.
The essential services are tabulated in Dr Thabane’s Wednesday speech and in the government gazette announcing the lockdown. These are the media, health sector, security agencies, banks, pharmacies, energy and fuel providers, supermarkets and grocery shops, agricultural services and some critical government ministries.
According to the gazette, the following are all non-essential services and should be closed for the duration of the lockdown: liquor businesses (such as night clubs, public bars, taverns, off sales, clubs and service canteens), accommodation, catering and tourism enterprises such as campsites, hotels, lodges, guest houses, restaurants, bed and breakfast outlets, youth hostels, resorts and motels.
There is no denying the financial losses and the likelihood of some businesses failing to recover from the enforced closures. There is however no other way. If human lives are to be saved, these strict measures are unavoidable.
The prospect of staying at home may prove difficult as we have seen in some countries which have already begun their lockdowns. And while the anxiety, psychological pain and hopelessness likely to result from the lockdown is understandable, again, there is no other way.
This pandemic is an existential crisis requiring extra-ordinary measures. Humanity is under threat. The virus knows no race, social status, gender and age. Even royalty has not been spared. The United Kingdom’s heir to the throne, Prince Charles, and the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are among infected victims.
These are desperate times. As the sages of old tell us, desperate times call for desperate measures. There is no other way. The government really had no choice but to emulate South Africa and many other countries which have imposed lockdowns.
Difficult as it may seem, we all have to play our part by staying at home. As some have been saying, the virus doesn’t travel but people do. And it can only be spread around the world by those who travel. It is therefore necessary that movement be suspended until it is known for certain that the virus has been defeated.
The Coronavirus has plunged the whole world into unprecedented turmoil with countries scurrying for measures to stop its spread in their territories. Some may say Lesotho is safe. But we cannot be too sure given the fact that we do not have our own testing facilities to conduct extensive tests as other countries have done. There is, as a result, the likelihood of people who may actually be walking around unaware that they are actually infected. If that suddenly causes an explosion of cases, as we have seen in Italy and Spain, then we will be in deep, deep trouble. A vaccine is only projected to be ready in 12 to 18 months.
We cannot therefore afford to relax. The lockdown is a welcome proactive rather than reactive move to confront the virus head-on. Yes, his critics will say the Coronavirus has thrown Dr Thabane’s moribund political career a lifeline, albeit a short one. But that misses the point. The Prime Minister was right to order the lockdown and save lives.
We therefore appeal to all Basotho to stay at home. Let’s all be mature enough to understand the need for such drastic measures. Let’s not willfully disregard the directive, inconvenient as it is.
If we all follow the rules of the lockdown and observe all the health precautions highlighted by experts, we will eventually defeat this scourge.