TODAY is 2 December 2021 and that means we are officially in the festive season. Worryingly, the festive season is starting when Southern Africa, Lesotho included, is faced with another wave of Covid-19 infections. Even more worrying is the discovery of the Omicron variant whose traits are still but new to our scientists.
That several cases have so far been discovered in neighbouring South Africa should be a cause for serious concern for Basotho particularly if we consider what happened in the last festive period. We remember with extreme fear the pace at which Covid-19 cases rose from mid-December until around February 2021 when the numbers started decelerating.
The reason for the sharp increase in cases and the eventual deaths of hundreds of our citizens was because thousands of Basotho shuttled between Lesotho and South Africa, the epicentre of the pandemic in Africa, using illegal borders. This because they wanted to avoid paying for Covid-19 test costs since no one can cross the borders without testing negative for the dreaded disease. While dodging the authorities helped the travellers save money, the cost was higher as lives were lost in the end. Thousands of cases were recorded in just a few months and hundreds of people died.
Apart from the deaths, the government was forced into locking down the economy because of the surge in cases. Thousands lost their jobs and the economy suffered immensely. Sporting activities were intermittently banned, schools were closed, restaurants and bars were shut down and factories were closed. When the economy gradually started reopening, the damage had long been done.
Just like any other year, we are expecting thousands to travel for the Christmas holidays. And given the laxity with which we have been going about our business, disregarding Covid-19 regulations in the last few months, we are likely to have a repeat of what happened in the last festive season if not worse. While we get solace from the ongoing vaccination programme, scientists have been clear that in Omicron, we are dealing with a totally new animal. In these early stages, no one knows the severity of the variant and whether or not it responds to any of the available medication. Early indications are that some of the available vaccines are ineffective when it comes to this new variant. Some countries have even said that the new variant is more difficult to detect and is even more infectious than the previous Delta variant. Still, there has been relative apathy towards vaccination and unscrupulous heath workers have gone to the extent of selling vaccination cards to those who are vaccine averse.
This calls for maximum vigilance of authorities as well as the public. We commend the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) for the vaccination campaign launched yesterday, wherein inbound Basotho travellers needing to be vaccinated will be inoculated at all ports of entry. The campaign will go a long way in ensuring that Lesotho vaccinates more people this festive season.
According to NACOSEC, by the end of this month, Lesotho should have vaccinated 1, 6 million people. This is a huge ask considering that as of last Thursday, when the last update was issued, Lesotho had vaccinated 711 393 people, just 35, 6 percent of the target. NACOSEC and the government can only do so much but it must be every citizen’s responsibility to get the Covid-19 shot. Similarly, it is our responsibility to report any travellers who cross into and out of the country using undesignated border points. Apart from the act being outright criminality, those same people put the whole population at the risk of infecting others. It is the same cross infections between vaccinated and unvaccinated people which provide fertile conditions for the mutation of Covid-19 into new variants like the latest Omicron one. What is even more scary is that handling a new variant is similar to shooting in the dark with no clue where or what your target is, particularly in its early stages.
It is for these and other reasons that we urge Basotho and all who intend to grace our beautiful country this festive season to be vigilant and act responsibly. We are not prepared for more deaths and loss of livelihoods. We are not prepared to see the already decimated textile sector cutting more jobs as well as other sectors succumbing. Similarly, our fickle economy cannot sustain any new lockdown measures. Our children cannot equally afford to be locked out of school for a single day further.