- NACOSEC demands lockdown, stringent restrictions as fears of Covid-19 “third wave” mount
THE National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) is said to be unhappy with Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro for failing to heed its advice to impose a hard lockdown or other stringent restrictions to deal with rising Covid-19 infections in the country.
This amid mounting fears that unless the country reimposes a ban on international travel, it risks a far more deadly third wave of infections imported from neighbouring South Africa.
Over the weekend, the South African government revealed that the Free State province, which borders Lesotho, is in the grip of a third wave of the deadly pandemic with the number of infections rising exponentially on a daily basis.
In its statement, South Africa’s health ministry said, “we are now in the third wave of the Covid-19 outbreak and have today seen a shocking rise of infections to 427 new cases with 60 yet to be allocated to appropriate districts.
“Mangaung has 200 new cases, Lejweleputswa has 95 new cases and Thabo Mofutsanyana has 53 new cases, Fezile Dabi has 49 new cases and Xhariep has 21 new cases,” the ministry said in its statement titled “Free State is officially on third wave of Covid-19 with exponential rise of daily infections”.
The announcement has sparked fears that Lesotho, which had seen a significant decline in the number of infections and deaths in the past two months, is at risk of an exponential increase of infections imported from South Africa, which currently has the highest infections in Africa and ranked 20th in the world.
Infections had dropped to less than five per week or even zero in Lesotho in some weeks from March and April but they have increased significantly to as high as 40 per week since the start of this month.
In the wake of the South African government’s statement, NACOSEC chief executive officer (CEO) ‘Malitaba Litaba told the Sunday Express that Lesotho was at risk of importing cases from South Africa “hence the need to implement stringent measures especially on international travel”.
“We have seen how Covid-19 infections have increased and it has been declared that there is a third wave in South Africa. This is a threat to us especially as the borders are open to allow international travel in this blue stage of Covid-19 guidelines which we are currently under.
“What is scarier is that the Free-State province which is next to us is one of the epicentres of the third wave of infections. Many Basotho travel to the Free State towns like Ladybrand and Ficksburg which are very close to Maseru and Maputsoe respectively.
“We can’t guarantee the safety of our country. Our positivity rate had been at a lowly 0, 5 percent but just last week we recorded 20 cases. We are now at one percent positivity rate and this could escalate quickly if we don’t implement stringent measures now.
“The situation could deteriorate further to what we experienced in January (when infections rose exponentially after thousands of people were allowed into the country from South Africa for the Christmas holiday without being tested or presenting valid Covid-19 certificates).”
Dr Litaba said apart from South Africa, Lesotho also risked importing infections from India because this country sends cancer and kidney patients to the Asian country for treatment. India has been in the news with heart-rending images of critically ill Covid-19 patients being shown on international media.
Asked to elaborate on what measures they were considering, she said Lesotho would have to ban international travel which was only permitted a fortnight ago when Prime Minister Majoro announced that Lesotho had moved into the blue category due to the decline in infections and deaths.
On her part, the Ministry of Health’s Director General, Nyane Letsie, warned that unless the nation continued observing public health regulations, more stringent measures including a hard lockdown would have to be reimposed to fight the pandemic.
This week, some NACOSEC officials who spoke to the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity because they are not allowed to speak to the media, said they were unhappy with the premier and cabinet’s “seemingly lackadaisical approach to the third wave threat Lesotho faces”.
They said despite being advised by NACOSEC to impose a hard lockdown or at least ban international travel, political and public gatherings, Dr Majoro had still not addressed the nation communicating the ban as per NACOSEC’s request.
Asked to comment on the issue this week, Dr Litaba was more diplomatic, saying although this had not been done, they were still hopeful that the premier would communicate a ban on political and other public gatherings as per their advice which they tendered to him last week.
“We are still hoping for a ban on international travel, political and public gatherings. We advised Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro last week to address the nation and this has not been done.
“It is still our hope that Dr Majoro will implement stringent measures as soon as possible to protect us from a third wave of Covid-19,” Dr Litaba said in an interview with the Lesotho Times.
Dr Majoro’s press attaché, Buta Moseme, was not reachable on his mobile phone for comment yesterday.
However, a Twitter message posted by Dr Majoro on Tuesday suggests that instead of a hard lockdown or other stringent measures, the premier is leaving it to the conscience of the nation to adhere to public health regulations to prevent the spread of the virus.
“There appears to be an uptick in positive cases. Forty new cases in the last week compared with five the previous week. This may follow a spike in neighbouring South Africa. Take extra care of yourself. We know the protocol,” Dr Majoro wrote on his Twitter handle.
One of the premier’s followers criticised him for allowing political gatherings.
“You have legalised super spreaders like political gatherings. You know for sure protocols are not easy to follow. You should do one thing and prohibit all political gatherings since they are not important except to you guys spreading lies to people,” said the Twitter follower whose handle is @Samuel K.
In reply to Dr Majoro, political analyst Thuso Mosabala said, “Mr Prime Minister, the first thing you should be doing is to restrict border movement and ensure security at our porous borders.
“Now you are simply being concerned like the rest of us when we have given you the responsibility to act and protect Basotho…what is this?”
Meanwhile, Dr Litaba said they have closed one school and more could be closed for failing to adhere to public health regulations which require them to practice rotation among other measures to protect learners from the deadly disease.
The rotation concept requires that schools divide their classes into two with the two groups attending school on alternating days to ensure there are not too many learners in class at the same time. The fewer numbers in class also enables the schools to practice social distancing of learners.
Dr Litaba said they had closed the unnamed school after touring schools in Maseru and Butha-Buthe districts last week. She said some schools risked the lives of learners through their non-compliance with the regulations.
“Some schools are not complying with the regulations. They lack the capacity to have so many learners congregated in one place as they are currently doing. Their actions put the country at risk of infections.
“We cannot afford a spike of infections but with schools being negligent, we won’t succeed with our preventive measures. Should this continue, we will be forced to implement a lockdown which will mean the closure of all schools.
“When I implement a lockdown there will be many complaints yet people are failing to take responsibility now,” Dr Litaba said.
She said they will also be inspecting other institutions such as factories to see if they are compliant.