Relief for Basotho travellers as Covid test prices slashed

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’Marafaele Mohloboli | Ntsebeng Motsoeli

BASOTHO and other people living in the country can now breathe easy after the Lesotho and South African governments agreed on much cheaper rapid Coronavirus (Covid-19) tests before one is allowed to travel between the two countries.

The two countries also agreed that the Covid-19 certificates will be valid for 14 days.

Home Affairs Minister Motlalentoa Letsosa and his South African counterpart, Aaron Motsoaledi, reached the agreement after they held a virtual meeting earlier this week.

Before the new changes which took effect yesterday, Basotho were required to undergo a polymerise chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test before being allowed into South Africa. This involved nasal or throat swabs taken to laboratories and the tests cost anything from M800 to M1 300. The results only came after at least 72 hours and the Covid-19 certificate was only valid for the same period from the date of issue.

However, Basotho will now pay much-reduced fees ranging from M150 to M200 for a rapid Covid-19 test at selected borders for a Covid-19 certificate which is valid for 14 days. The rapid test involves taking blood samples and testing for the presence of antibodies which the body produces to fight infections such as Covid-19.

Announcing the latest developments, Mr Letsosa said he had held a fruitful meeting with Mr Motsoaledi in the aftermath of an outcry by Basotho who felt the initial Covid-19 test charges were too high.

“Having listened to Basotho’s grievances pertaining to the high prices of testing, we agreed that these prices shall be lowered to between M150 and M200 as of Wednesday 21 October 2020 and the certificate shall be valid for a period of 14 days,” Mr Letsosa said.

He said the cheap Covid-19 tests would be offered at the Maseru, Maputsoe, Caledon, Qacha’s Nek and Van Rooyen border posts.

Mr Letsosa said they had also agreed on renewing Lesotho Special Permits (LSPs) to 31 January 2021 to give the permit holders ample time to apply for new ones.

The LSP was initially introduced in 2015 by the South African government to enable eligible Basotho to lawfully reside, work, study and conduct business in South Africa.

It was due to expire in December 2019. But it was extended by another four years and South Africa began accepting renewal applications in November 2019. The applications were later affected by the imposition of the lockdowns in both countries in March this year hence the decision to extend the expired permits to next January.

“We have also agreed on extending the renewal of Lesotho Special Permits to 31 January 2021. All Lesotho nationals who are in South Africa under this permit are therefore still considered legal. We therefore encourage everyone to take this opportunity and renew theirs.

“Those who have overstayed in South Africa and have had their passports scrapped should also submit their supporting documentation on why they overstayed and this shall be dealt with by a committee that has been put together for that purpose,” Mr Letsosa said.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo says only limited categories of Basotho will be allowed into South Africa.

Speaking in the National Assembly on Monday, Mr Maqelepo said the easing of travel restrictions was not a licence for Basotho to flood South Africa to seek jobs. He said only those with urgent pressing reasons such as the need for medical attention and learners would be allowed into South Africa.

“The world is still battling the Covid-19 pandemic and Lesotho is no exception. We have opened boarders for economic activities and to ease lives. However, we are still cautious not to attract new infections.

“South Africa has not opened its borders for us to go job seeking. We are still in a crisis. We can only go there to take care of pressing problems. The situation right now does not allow people to go to other countries to look for employment. That should wait until things are back to normal,” Mr Maqelepo said.

He said the borders were only open for the following categories:

  • Basotho returning home from South Africa
  • patients who are accompanied by at least two people-a driver and a caretaker.
  • business people and couriers.
  • Migrant labourers certified to work in Lesotho or South Africa including those who travel between the two countries daily.
  • Learners who commute daily between the two countries.
  • Relatives travelling for family burials, to identify their deceased relatives as well as those travelling to collect bodies of their deceased relatives from mortuaries.
  • Old age pensioners travelling to collect their retirement packages.

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