THE utter disregard of Covid-19 protocols is behind the spike in infections which have made Leribe district the epicentre of the pandemic in Lesotho, the Sunday Express has learnt.
While announcing a stricter lockdown late last month, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro said Leribe was the hardest hit by the third wave of Covid-19. Schools and factories were said be super spreaders of the virus. But even after schools closed, infections continued to increase in the district, National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) officials said.
Asked why Leribe had the dubious distinction of leading other districts when it comes to infections, NACOSEC CEO, ‘Malitaba Litaba’s response was simple- non-compliance with the Covid-19 health regulations.
People are not wearing masks. People are not practicing social distancing, Dr Litaba said.
She said NACOSEC had begun conducting awareness campaigns in the district to educate people about the importance of simple protective measures like wearing a mask and social distancing.
Leribe District Administrator, Mohlophehi Mohobelo, concurs. Mr Mohobelo said besides schools and factories, they had identified shopping centres and public bars as some of the Covid-19 hotspots. He said they were now targeting all these in their awareness campaigns.
“In addition to schools, other hotspots are shops, textile factories and bars,” Mr Mohobelo said.
“There usually many people at such places and many of them do not practice social distancing nor they wear face masks. Even employees of textile firms were going about their business without wearing masks or distancing. We have different awareness campaigns targeting these Covid-19 hotspots. The security agencies are also patrolling to ensure compliance with regulations including the (9pm to 4am daily) curfew,” he added.
Some Leribe residents have hailed the presence of police and soldiers on the streets, saying this had helped improve compliance with health protocols and lockdown regulations particularly the dusk to dawn curfew.
“The presence of soldiers is helping a lot to improve compliance. They encourage people to wear their masks in public places. Taxi drivers who don’t comply with rules (limiting the number of passengers in their vehicles) are even made to do push-ups as punishment. All these measures have helped to ensure compliance,” said Mampho Chakela, a Sebothoane villager near Hlotse, Leribe.
However, Ms Chakela says she and others are concerned about funerals and other sociocultural activities where people still attend in large numbers with scant regard to social distancing.
“At the funerals we exceed the allowed number of 100 people. It is something of a taboo for anyone in the village not to attend a funeral. It is also impossible to limit the number of people attending a funeral,” she said.
Lesotho is now officially in the third wave of Covid-19, with Prime Minister Majoro revealing that the country is battling three highly contagious variants of the virus.
These are the South African variant, Delta variant and the United Kingdom mutation of the Lambda variant first identified in Peru last August.
Of these, the Delta variant is the most virulent with reports saying it is responsible for 83 percent of Covid-19 cases in the US.
The US is the world leader in Covid-19 cases with 36 447 123 infections and 632 641 deaths having been recorded by yesterday.
India, the country where the Delta variant was first identified, is not far behind with 31 895 385 infections and 427 401 deaths by yesterday.
Three weeks ago, Dr Majoro said the country’s positivity rate had shot up and more than 300 positive infections were now being recorded per week. NACOSEC reported that by yesterday, Lesotho had recorded a cumulative 13 603 infections and 377 deaths.
NACOSEC said Leribe was the hardest hit district with high rates of infections having been recorded in schools and factories last month. This prompted the government to roll out the second phase of its mass vaccination campaign in the district last week.
Thereafter, the vaccination programme will be expanded to Maseru, Berea and Butha-Buthe.