- widespread relief as “non-essential” businesses re-open
PRIME Minister Thomas Thabane on Tuesday lifted the national lockdown which has been in place since 30 March 2020 as part of measures to fight the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
The move came as welcome relief to businesses which had not traded during the lockdown. It was also welcomed by ordinary citizens who had been forced to stay at home and only allowed to venture out for essential services such as groceries and medical services.
Lesotho is officially the only African country without any Covid-19 infections.
However, the country still has no testing facilities of its own and relies on South Africa. So far, only 31 suspected cases have been tested and the figure is a drop in the ocean given that the population stands at 2, 1 million as per the last census in 2016.
The lockdown was initially supposed to end on 21 April but was extended to 5 May 2020. Mr Thabane said the extension was necessary to allow the country to begin mass testing for Covid-19 and to ensure the country’s medical facilities were ready to attend to any infections.
In a televised address to the nation on Tuesday, Mr Thabane said the lockdown had been lifted to prevent total economic collaps. However, the country’s borders with South Africa remain closed.
“The Lesotho government has decided to gradually relax the lockdown to prevent economic downturn while fighting the deadly COVID-19,” Mr Thabane said.
“Therefore, beginning tomorrow (yesterday), the government has decided to allow all non-essential service enterprises to temporarily open shop while the government closely monitors the situation.
“The public service and state-owned entities will also resume work while strictly adhering to hygienic protocols. Therefore, heads of departments will ensure that civil servants work in shifts to resuscitate service delivery.”
Businesses, public services and state enterprises will resume operations. Tertiary institutions will re-open along with primary and secondary schools. However, schools will only open for learners sitting for public examinations this year while churches will only be allowed a maximum of 50 congregants per service. People will be required to wear masks in public places.
Mr Thabane said all businesses, organisations and ordinary citizens should continue following World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. He said operating times for businesses will be announced in a government gazette soon to be published by Ministry of Health.
He said the government will implement “economic and social development interventions” to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 induced global economic slowdown.
The interventions are as follows:
- vulnerable people will receive food parcels in their respective communities. The lists of beneficiaries will be provided by chiefs, councilors and district administrators.
- the Labour and Employment Ministry, in collaboration with the Lesotho National Development Corporation (LNDC), will soon start paying factory workers.
- The government will soon announce ways in which businesses with up to date tax returns, can access funds from the Lesotho Enterprise Assistance Programme. Once the announcement is made the businesses can start applying for assistance.
- businesses will soon receive rental assistance through tax rebates.
- the government has made preparations for Basotho living in South Africa to start receiving food parcels through the assistance of International Organisation for Migration. The process of handing out food parcels will start this week, working closely with selected food enterprises.
The lifting of the lockdown came as welcome relief to businesses and ordinary citizens. Yesterday, Maseru and other urban centres were a hive of activity as shoppers flocked to clothing shops and other retail outlets. In Maseru, large queues were observed at liquor outlets as people jostled to buy alcohol whose sale had been banned during the lockdown.