BASOTHO must be worried. Extremely worried by the government’s lackadaisical approach in dealing with the deadly Corona virus which has infected tens of thousands of people and killed many worldwide.
Every week since the outbreak of the pandemic which has since been declared a public emergency in most countries, our health ministry conducts briefings to assure the nation that adequate measures are in place to protect the nation from the scourge.
We are also reminded that there is no need to press the panic button because to date, no cases have been detected in Lesotho.
All of this should be reassuring but the reality is that we should be worried. It should worry all of us if as happened three weeks ago, an eSwatini visitor can just show up, spend a week in the country attending high level meetings, visit our tourist attractions and return to her own country where it is then discovered that she is in fact infected with the virus.
As we recently reported in our sister Sunday Express publication, the 33-year-old woman had been to the United States of America before jetting into Lesotho for week-long meetings with Central bank of Lesotho (CBL) officials.
It was only upon her return to her own country that samples were taken and sent to South Africa where it was confirmed that she indeed had the virus.
That she was able to come into the country and leave without raising any suspicions about her condition and that this happened despite frequent reports by the relevant authorities that they are manning all the country’s ports of entry and fully testing people for the virus leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
Granted, it is not easy to detect the virus as it can affect anyone without showing any immediate symptoms. Such an affected person can then transmit to others unknowingly during the incubation period which can be as long as a month depending on the individual. That is exactly why other countries have taken stringent measures to halt visits into their territories from countries badly affected by the virus. The South Africans have halted travels from the US, Italy, China, Iran until further notice. In making the announcement, President Cyril Ramaphosa cancelled all visas already issued to nationals of those countries.
Such a drastic move, taken despite the SA economy being in the woods, is only sensible because of the contagious nature of the virus and the paramount need to protect a nation’s citizens.
The eSwatini woman was detected by the Swazi authorities on her return to that country not so much because of visible sickness but because she had visited the US, now one of the epicentres of the virus.
Yet we allowed her into our borders with no questions asked.
Even after the eSwatini government her positive status, this did not elicit an immediate response from our government. At the time of writing, there was still no word from the government assuring us that all those who had come into contact with this Corona virus victim during her week-long meetings in Lesotho had been quarantined and tested for the virus.
Instead, Basotho and the rest of the world were treated to puerile comments from Tourism minister Joang Molapo, declaring Lesotho to be an extremely safe tourist destination.
“Lesotho remains an extremely safe place to visit. The risk of contracting Coronavirus here is at this moment in time zero,” Chief Molapo said adding that tourists should continue visiting the country to savour the country’s tourist attractions.
So Chief Molapo would rather have tourists from wherever flocking into Lesotho, with no questions asked, at a time when the virus is spreading like wildfire around the world and its death toll is showing no signs of receding ? And all this at a time when other countries are shutting their borders and urging their citizens to restrict travel and work from home whenever necessary? Such incompetence from a government minister is not only breathtaking but inexcusable.
The Corona virus is a very serious issue for which there is no room for error. Which is why other countries continue taking drastic measures despite the impact of these on their economies. Zimbabwe and Namibia have for the first time ever banned their vaunted independence celebrations and discouraged huge gatherings. South Africa has discouraged gatherings of 100 people or more. Sporting events are being halted across the globe.
Yet Minister Molapo is encouraging all and sundry to flock to Lesotho. What makes this even more sad is that we are ill-equipped to handle the virus despite the bluster from the government. We cannot even do the basic tests as samples have to be sent to South Africa for scrutiny, with the attendant risk that those waiting for the results can in the meanwhile infect more. At this rate, we can only pray and hope God ensures this deadly pandemic spare our vulnerable shores.