- hospitals, mortuaries overwhelmed,
- coffins run out as Covid situation reaches crisis levels, premier reveals.
Limpho Sello | Ntsebeng Motsoeli
PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has reimposed a nationwide lockdown as part of stricter rules to fight soaring Covid-19 infections.
Dr Majoro also revealed that the country’s hospitals were overwhelmed due to the spike in infections while mortuaries had run out of space to accommodate bodies of deceased patients.
He said as part of measures to stem the rising tide of infections, the country had from today been placed in the red category of restrictions. This means that the country’s borders have now been shut down and cross-border travel is expressly prohibited except for essential services and returning residents. The situation will be reviewed on 27 January 2021, he said.
There will be even stricter restrictions on inter and intra-district travel with people expected to observe a new curfew from 7pm until 6am. Last week, Dr Majoro had announced a curfew from 8pm until 5am the following day.
The new measures, announced on Tuesday evening by Dr Majoro, came into effect this morning.
Addressing the nation on national television, Dr Majoro said cabinet had resolved at its Tuesday meeting to impose the new tighter restrictions following a spike in Covid-19 infections and deaths.
Last week when Dr Majoro announced that the country had moved to the orange category which necessitated stricter measures, statistics provided by the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) showed that there were now 3914 Covid-19 infections and 65 deaths in Lesotho.
This represented a huge increase from the 3206 infections recorded on 1 January 2021.
The latest NACOSEC statistics released on 10 January 2021 put the number of infections at 5937 and deaths at 85.
However, the premier believes the infections and deaths are much higher than what was reported by NACOSEC. He said they were continually receiving reports of infections and deaths from people who knew of others who had succumbed to the virus.
He said until late last month, new infections had been low and had never exceeded 20 infections per day.
“But from 18 December 2020 the number of infections increased to at least 100 per day and today looking at the recent statistics, the positive cases have increased to over 800 per day,” Dr Majoro said, adding, “we are in a crisis now”.
“In November (2020), the death rate was low as only one or two deaths were reported per week. But last week, we reported 20 deaths and the expectation is that in the coming weeks the numbers are going to increase to over 20 per week and they are going to shock us.”
Dr Majoro said they had inspected health facilities and found that they were overwhelmed by the rising tide of infections. The isolation centres were full and in in the coming days all hospitals will get full, he said.
“We have inspected the status of our health facilities today (Tuesday) to see if they could still accommodate people who need close monitoring by doctors and nurses. We discovered that hospitals, clinics and other health centres were under immense pressure. The Mafeteng and Berea hospitals are full to capacity.
“We had extended admissions of Covid-19 patients to other government hospitals and they are now also burdened by the growing numbers of patients. The situation is expected to worsen in the coming days.
“We do not have adequate intensive care unit (ICU) facilities for critical patients and the numbers are expected to grow past the capacity of those that we have.
“The death rate is also increasing alarmingly and mortuaries have also reported that they are running out of coffins and space to shelf the deceased. They are fearing a worse situation in the next few weeks. This virus is getting out of control and this warrants us to make decisions,” Dr Majoro said.
The premier said as part of measures to stem the tide of infections, people were expected to stay at home and only go out for essential services such as purchasing food from grocery stores and seeking medical services.
“The security forces will be deployed to the streets to ensure that the public abide by the regulations,” he said.
Other measures include the already existing ban on church services and political rallies.
Schools will remain closed while prisoners will no longer be able to receive visits from their families and friends. Only health workers, lawyers representing inmates and oversight bodies will be allowed to continue visiting prisons.
The new restrictions also come at a time when Covid-19 infections are rising exponentially all over the world. Many countries including neighbouring South Africa have been hit by a new variant of Covid 19 which is said to be more infectious than the first one which originally broke out in January 2019.
South Africa has been cited as a key source of the new variant. Countries like the UK have since banned all travel between them and South Africa.
South Africa has now breached the one million mark with 1 259 748 infections and 34 334 deaths as of yesterday.
This represents a sharp increase from 1 127 759 infections and 30 524 deaths a week ago. It has the highest number of infections in Africa and is 16th in the world.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday announced stricter measures including the closure of the country’s land borders and the extension of the ban on alcohol sales. The alarming increase in infections locally and in South Africa made the government’s fresh restrictions inevitable.
A fortnight ago, Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo warned that a fresh Covid-19 disaster was looming in the country with an alarming increase in infections.
Mr Maqelepo said he would advise Dr Majoro to impose another strict lockdown.
Earlier this week, the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) also appealed to the premier to announce a “hard lockdown”, saying the health delivery system was overwhelmed and could no longer cope with the soaring infections.
LNA president, Raphael Tlali, said the rate of infections was too high and Lesotho’s health facilities lacked adequate personnel and equipment to deal with the situation.
He said among other things, isolation centres lacked oxygen to assist patients to breathe.
“People are dying every day and nurses are also getting infected daily. Such statistics are not recorded by NACOSEC but we have obtained them through our own investigations and checking up on our members.
“A hard lockdown is necessary because we are not even ready now as the health system is very poor. The facilities are very poor, there is no personal protective equipment (PPE), no running water and sanitisers in our facilities. The training of our health professionals on infection, prevention and control to eliminate the risk of Covid-19 infection is also poor,” Mr Tlali said.