LocalNews

Coronavirus scare in Lesotho

  • amid reports that first eSwatini patient attended a business event in Lesotho a week ago 

Limpho Sello

THERE are fears that the deadly novel coronavirus (now known as COVID-19) could have entered the country undetected after eSwatini reported that its first patient was in Lesotho just over a week ago for a business meeting.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses which are potentially deadly diseases in human beings, other mammals and birds. In humans they’re typically spread via airborne droplets of fluid produced by infected individuals. The virus causes respiratory illness with symptoms such as coughing, fever and in more severe cases, pneumonia. No cure for the disease has been identified as yet but people can protect by washing their hands more frequently with a disinfectant and water, avoiding touching their faces and coughing in public places.

According to the World health Organisation (WHO) the total number of COVID-19 cases reported by yesterday is 145 816 with the death toll having reached 5438 worldwide. The most affected countries are China, Italy, Iran and South Korea.

Up to now, no cases have been reported in Lesotho with the government saying it has pulled out the stops and implemented all the WHO-recommended guidelines including screening travellers at the country’s ports of entry to ensure the nation is safe from the virus.

However, there are real fears that the virus may have been brought into the country undetected by the health authorities. This after the eSwatini government on Friday announced that its first patient had actually been to Lesotho for a business meeting just over a week ago.

A statement issued by the eSwatini Ministry of Health on Friday stated that a 33-year-old woman, returned from the United States of America at the end of last month. The eSwatini government said the woman first travelled to Lesotho before heading home to eSwatini where was screened and found to have contracted the virus. She is currently in isolation.

“The country (eSwatini) has registered the first confirmed case of COVID-19, a condition caused by coronavirus, on the 13th of March 2020. A 33-year-old woman returned from the United States of America at the end of February, proceeded for a business meeting in Lesotho, came back on 7th March 2020 and was later seen by a private practitioner who took samples for laboratory testing on 11th March 2020. The test was confirmed positive in a South African laboratory. The patient is stable and has been taken for isolation and monitoring,” the statement says.

But despite the risk posed by the eSwatini patient’s entry and exit from Lesotho without being detected and screened by officials for the disease, the government maintains that there are still no cases of COVID-19 in the country.

After news of the eSwatini Coronavirus case broke yesterday, a high-level emergency meeting between Lesotho government officials and developments partners was held at the Ministry of Health boardroom to discuss the issue.

Health minister Nkaku Kabi however, acknowledged the anomaly and said the eSwatini woman’s case, which was reported yesterday around the world, should have been detected while the patient was in the country.

The eSwatini woman is said to have come to Lesotho to attend a Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) meeting early last month. Mr Kabi said they could not screen the woman for COVID-19 since she was coming from eSwatini which was not perceived to be at risk of the virus.

The CBL workshop is said to have been attended by 17 participants from various southern African countries and the CBL was represented by seven employees.

“We are currently working to find all the people she (eSwatini patient) interacted with at the hotel she was booked, the employees of the CBL she interacted with during her stay as well as those she interacted with during the leisure trip to Ha-Kome,” Mr Kabi said.

CBL governor Ret?elisitsoe Matlanyane said 17 employees of the central bank attended the same meeting with the eSwatini woman and thereafter interacted with her during an excursion to the Kome Caves on the outskirts of Maseru.  Dr Matlanyane said the CBL and Health authorities had since traced all the people the woman interacted with while in Lesotho and they were currently compiling a report on the incident.

The CBL governor said all the 17 employees of the central bank were now isolated for 14 days while health officials monitored their progress. She said the bank had now put in place preventive measures such as sanitising all public spaces within their premises to avoid any contamination which could spread infection.

On his part, Development Planning minister Tlohelang Aumane said the eSwatini case emphasised the need for Lesotho to scale up its screening and detection programmes at the country’s ports of entry to ensure no potential case passed undetected.

Meanwhile, the number of confirmed cases in South has risen sharply from two last Saturday to 38 as of yesterday. The SA department of Health announced that there have been 14 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 by last night. Health minister Zweli Mkhize said that of the 14 new cases confirmed, seven were in Gauteng, six in the Western Cape and one in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The youngest patient was a 14-year-old girl from the Western Cape who travelled to the US and Dubai. The majority of the confirmed cases involved people who travelled to European countries,” a report in the South African media reported yesterday.

A total of 122 South African citizens who were repatriated from Wuhan city, the epicentre of the disease in China, arrived at the Polokwane International Airport yesterday. They were immediately whisked off to a private resort where they will be isolated for the next 21 days.

Namibian Health minister Kalumbi Shangala also reported the country’s first confirmed two cases of COVID-19 yesterday. Namibia’s President Dr Geingob Hage also issued a statement, saying that banned the country’s independence celebrations scheduled for later this month had been called off.

Namibia and eSwatini are the latest countries in the continent to report a COVID-19 case. Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and guinea announced their first confirmed cases on Friday as the disease has now spread to at least 18 African countries.

Several countries have also banned large gatherings as well as international sporting events due to the virus outbreak. Among the African countries that have reported cases are Egypt, South Africa, Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, and eSwatini, Ghana, Cameroon, Cote de Ivor, Kenya, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lesotho’s government secretary Moahloli Mphaka last week wrote to all government secretaries informing them that government had banned all ministries, government departments, parastatals and other state-owned enterprises from embarking on foreign trips “as a precautionary measure to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus”.

“Please be advised that in view of the rapid spread and significant mortality of the COVID19 virus across the globe, it has become increasingly necessary to reduce the risk of exposure,” Mr Mphaka wrote on Tuesday. The government further extended the ban to include all foreign missions on Wednesday, saying they would not be allowed to travel in and out of Lesotho.

In addition, the Finance ministry’s principal secretary, Motena Tšolo, wrote to the executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Stergomena Lawrence Tax, informing her that Lesotho had imposed a ban on all foreign missions travelling into and out of Lesotho.

Lesotho has so far implemented various measures to prevent the spread of the virus to the country.

Last week, the government secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, wrote to all government secretaries informing them that the government had banned all ministries, government departments, parastatals and other state-owned enterprises from embarking on foreign trips “as a precautionary measure to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus”.

“Please be advised that in view of the rapid spread and significant mortality of the COVID19 virus across the globe, it has become increasingly necessary to reduce the risk of exposure.

“In this regard, Cabinet has decided that official international travel shall cease forthwith, as a precautionary measure intended to minimise the risk of exposure to the virus. The moratorium applies to all dignitaries and officers of the government in all government institutions namely, ministries, departments, parastatals and any other state-owned enterprises. Notice shall be made of the lifting of this moratorium in the fullness of time,” Mr Mphaka wrote on Tuesday.

The government subsequently extended the travel ban to include all foreign missions on Wednesday, saying they would not be allowed to travel in and out of Lesotho as precautionary measure to reduce the risk of the virus spreading into the country.

In addition, the Finance ministry’s principal secretary, Motena Tšolo, wrote to the executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Stergomena Lawrence Tax, informing her that Lesotho had imposed a ban on all foreign missions travelling to and from the country.

“This correspondence serves to inform the SADC secretariat that the Lesotho government has suspended all travel from and into Lesotho. This embargo is imposed as a precaution against the risk of infection by the coronavirus associated with international travel,” Ms Tšolo said.

No-governmental organisations have also joined in the fray to spread information and awareness about COVID-19. Among them is the Maseru United Church, which is today, hosting a special sermon to educate the public about the virus.

Church spokesperson, John Matlotsa, said the special sermon will be dedicated to the prevention of COVID-19 among the congregants. Mr Matlotsa said a team of medical practitioners from the church will also be at the event to explain how the people can prevent themselves against the virus, of which no cure has been found so far.

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