Factory workers down tools over Coronavirus scare


Limpho Sello/ Ntsebeng Motsoeli

Workers at one of the textile factories in Thetsane, Maseru yesterday downed tools demanding answers from management as to why a Chinese national had been quarantined within the factory as precaution in case he had contracted the deadly Coronavirus when he visited China during the festive season.

The striking Glory International workers also demanded to see the passport of the Chinese national to ascertain for themselves if he had been screened for the virus. The matter was only resolved when workers’ representatives and Health ministry officials met and afterwards addressed the employees.

On 31 December 2019, the WHO was alerted to several cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. A week later, on 7 January 2020, Chinese authorities confirmed that they had identified a novel Coronavirus — 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.

It is widely believed that the first Chinese nationals contracted the Coronavirus after eating infected meat of wild animals or seafood.

As of yesterday, it was said the Coronavirus had killed more than 1100 people and infected over 45 000 people worldwide. The vast majority of cases are in mainland China.

Since the start of the week, Glory International workers and fellow employees from TZICC and Formosa in Thetsane have been raising concerns about their Chinese bosses who have quarantined themselves as part of the precautions to prevent the spread of the deadly virus after their arrival back in the country from the holidays.

Workers at TZICC this week raised the alarm on social media and asked the authorities to intervene over the quarantining of people at their work place as this increased their chances of contracting the virus.

The social media rumours went as far as saying the Chinese nationals had been smuggled into Lesotho through a cargo container, a claim the TZICC management and security personnel have vehemently denied.

United Textile Employees (UNITE) secretary general, Solong Senohe, told the Lesotho Times that workers of Formosa textiles had also raised concern over a Chinese national who had been isolated in one of the rooms within the factory compound. However, he said he was assured that the isolated individual was under 24-hour guard for two weeks before he could be allowed to make any contact with other people.

He said the major concern by Formosa workers was that there were some locals who were hired at some of the residences where the isolated individuals were being kept and they therefore viewed this as a potential risk.

On Tuesday, ministers Nkaku Kabi (Health) and Keketso Rantšo (Labour) and health officials visited TZICC to address the concerns of factory workers. Mr Kabi said the self-quarantining exercise was being done as per the WHO requirements that anyone who had travelled to the Coronavirus-affected regions should be in isolation for 14 days while their condition was being monitored.

“We are here to inform you that when people are put in isolation rooms it is to allow the ministry to run tests. This is not proof that they are sick but it is only to prevent them from spreading the virus if at all they contracted it during their travels,” Mr Kabi said.

Ms Rantšo said his ministry had been screening all travelers coming into Lesotho from the affected countries and those found with symptoms will be quarantined.

WHO Country Representative, Dr Richard Banda, said his office was not aware of any Chinese nationals who had been smuggled into Lesotho through a cargo container as they had not been alerted to such an incident by the Ministry of Health. He said he had only read about the alleged incident on social media.

He however, said if ever there was such an incident then his office would have been alerted by now as WHO was working with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to monitor and screen for Coronavirus in Lesotho.

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