THE government will make it compulsory for all private and public sector employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19 amid spiraling infections.
Health Minister Semano Sekatle said the new requirement will come into effect in just over a week on 1 January 2022.
Mr Sekatle made the announcement early this week in a televised address to the nation.
“Because of surge in Covid-19 infections, the government has resolved that from 1 January 2022, all public servants, NGO and company employees should not be allowed entry into their work premises without being vaccinated,” Mr Sekatle said.
“To show that the positivity rate is increasing at an alarming rate, it has shot up from 0, 85 percent to 13 percent in just one week. Hospital admissions have increased from three percent to seven percent of those infected.
“However, there are no new deaths and we believe that this is because of the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines. Many people have been receiving their jabs,” the minister added.
Although the move to make vaccinations compulsory could help prevent severe illnesses and deaths in the event of infections, it is doubtful if the government has the capacity to ensure that all workers are jabbed in just a week before the start of the new year.
In a subsequent interview with the Lesotho Times yesterday, Mr Sekatle insisted this could be done because his ministry had procured enough vaccines to cover every eligible individual in the country. All the workers have to do is to present themselves at the various vaccination points countrywide and be jabbed in line with the mass vaccination programme which was introduced in March this year, Mr Sekatle said.
“We have enough vaccines and we have adequate personnel to attend to all workers. All that is required is for people to show up at vaccination points to get jabbed,” Mr Sekatle said.
It appears the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation has wasted no time in implementing Mr Sekatle’s directive.
That ministry’s principal secretary, Lefu Manyokole, issued a memorandum to all staffers in the ministry this week, instructing them to ensure that they are jabbed by 2 January 2022 latest.
In the memo titled ‘Mandatory vaccination for public officers’, Mr Manyokole says that all staffers will be required to produce proof of vaccination and the information will be recorded by the human resources department for compliance and monitoring purposes.
He warns of penalties for non-compliance, saying, “an officer who does not comply with the above directive will not be allowed entry into the ministry’s premises across the country and services thereof (sic)”.
“It is also worth noting that any officer who will fail to comply with this directive will be deemed to have committed misconduct and a disciplinary action (sic) may be instituted against them,” Mr Manyokole states.
However, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC)’s Human Rights and Justice Programme Manager, Rapelang Mosae, believes the compulsory vaccination directive is being hastily implemented without adequate consultations with all stakeholders.
It could even be in violation of human rights, Mr Mosae said.
He said experts were still studying the impact of the vaccines, particularly their side effects. Therefore, it was not proper to make the vaccinations compulsory when their effects were not yet fully understood and when there were no clear laws or guidelines on issues like compensation in the event of adverse reactions, he said.
“For starters when you say that something is mandatory, you will have to bear the consequences of whatever might happen.
“Secondly, the minister has just made an announcement without any enabling legislation. This (compulsory vaccination) requirement will result in the limitation of fundamental rights and these should only be limited in exceptional circumstances. The minister would have to prove that there are indeed exceptional circumstances warranting the government decision.
“Other countries have tried similar things only for their courts to strike down such requirements for violating the human right to choose whether or not to be jabbed,” Mr Mosae said.
In Kenya, the High Court last week suspended a government order to prevent those who are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 from accessing services and entering public places such as national parks, bars and restaurants.
The east African country announced last month it would require people to show vaccination certificates from 21 December 2021 to access in-person government services, including hospitals, schools, tax and immigration offices.
But the High Court suspended the order pending a hearing of the case filed by a Kenyan citizen who termed the directive “tyrannical” and a gross violation of the constitution.
However, Mr Sekatle said they had every reason to make vaccinations compulsory to fight the pandemic.
He said vaccines had been proved to prevent serious illnesses and deaths in patients hence the government had taken upon itself to implement all necessary measures to ensure public safety.
Specifically, on whether compulsory vaccination did not amount to a violation of individual rights, Mr Sekatle said, “all rights are limited and some rights are superior to others”.
“Can one compare the freedom of choice to the right to good health and safety? No, it does not work like that. We have to protect the public. If it means limiting some rights in the public interest then so be it.
“Every human right is limited, there is no absolute right. Anyone who suggests otherwise should look at the constitution and they will find that every right is indeed limited,” Mr Sekatle said.
He said they would soon issue a gazette on compulsory vaccinations and those who refuse to abide by the regulations will not only be prosecuted but will also be denied access to services.
Meanwhile, the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) said Lesotho had as of yesterday recorded 26 004 infections and a cumulative 665 deaths.