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Govt relaxes lockdown, allows mines to re-open

Bereng Mpaki

THE government has relaxed the public health regulations to expand the list of businesses allowed to operate during the current lockdown.

According to a gazette published on Wednesday by Health Minister Nkaku Kabi, the list now includes mines, shearing sheds, street vendors selling essential goods, baby clothing shops, hardwares, motor spares and service shops. It also includes small scale building and construction, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), cleaning and other services rendered to the executive and the judiciary.

This adds to banks, general cafes, supermarkets, farm feeds, wholesalers, meat wholesalers, domestic fuel dealers, bakeries, butcheries, green grocers and dairy shops that were already operational.

Lesotho embarked on a nationwide lockdown on 31 March 2020. The lockdown was supposed to have ended on 21 April but was last week extended to 5 May 2020 to enable the government to allow the country to begin mass testing for COVID-19.

Although the country is yet to record any cases, the authorities are on high alert as neighbouring South Africa, Lesotho’s biggest trading partner, has now recorded over 4200 cases and 79 deaths. Global infections are nearing 3 million while the virus has killed more than 200 000 people by yesterday.

Following the publication of the Wednesday gazette, the Ministry of Trade and Industry issued a statement on Thursday saying the relaxation was meant to “keep economic activities going”.

“With the purpose to keep the economic activities going during the lockdown, the new schedule of Public Health (COVID -19) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 include:

“Hardware, vehicles spares, tyres, repairs and service shops, baby and toddlers clothing shops, small scale building and construction, street vendors for essential goods and services, shearing sheds and diamond mines.

“The businesses/enterprises listed above will operate from 8am to 2pm as stipulated on the schedule except for small scale building and construction and shearing sheds which will operate from 8am to 5pm and 7am to 5pm respectively.”

This comes as a relief to the mining sector after the Lesotho Chamber of Mines (LCM) recently wrote to the government requesting to re-open to avoid job losses.

In the letter to the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC) set up by the government to spearhead the fight against COVID-19, LCM chairperson Mohale Ralikariki said the mines were likely to retrench if they were not allowed to reopen immediately.

“If the suspension of the operations is prolonged, then mines will be forced to retrench and maintain skeletal staff until 2021 or beyond,” Mr Ralikariki said in the 16 April 2020 letter.

Although Mr Ralikariki was unavailable for comment yesterday, the letter said, four of the diamond mines namely, Letšeng, Liqhobong, Kao and Mothae had contributed M891 million to the government through taxes and levies in 2019. This was excluding the contributions made to the economy by the contractors, service providers and suppliers contracted by the mining companies. All this would be lost if the mines were to remain closed.

“To survive these debilitating national and international events, the already embattled diamond mines of Lesotho request that consideration be given to allow production to resume at those mines that can still afford to do so.

“Failure to re-commence production timeously, before the already stretched and limited financial resources are exhausted, will lead to either extended care and maintenance programmes (a state where only essential services will remain operational) … or full mine closures being implemented, both scenarios have detrimental impact on the gross domestic product (GDP) and employment situation,” Mr Ralikariki states.

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