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Majoro launches Covid-19 testing laboratory

Limpho Sello  

THE government this week officially launched the Coronavirus (Covid-19) testing laboratory in Maseru amid calls by Prime Minister Moeketsi for the nation to prioritise Covid-19 prevention measures because the deadly virus has no cure.

Lesotho recorded its first Covid-19 case on 13 May 2020 and to date the number of infections has risen to 742 cases and 23 deaths. All in all, 8771 people have been tested so far.

It is highly likely that the Covid-19 infections would be much higher if more people had been tested. The 8771 who have been tested are a tiny drop out of Lesotho’s 2, 1 million population.

In addition to its own limited testing capacity, Lesotho relies on neighbouring South Africa which is already heavily burdened by its own Covid-19 cases. South Africa now ranks as the fifth highest in the world with 545 476           infections and 9909 deaths by yesterday.

Only Russia (877 135 infections and 14 725 deaths), India (2 089 773  infections and 42 602 deaths), Brazil (2 967 064 infections and 99 702 deaths) and the United States (5 095 748 infections and 164 104 deaths) are ranked higher than South Africa in terms of Covid-19 infections and deaths in the world.

This week’s official launch of Lesotho’s own testing centre at the National Reference Laboratory in Maseru will therefore go a long way in increasing local testing and reducing dependence on South Africa.

Speaking at the launch, Dr Majoro said the testing facility would operate three testing machines.

He said the machines will enable 2000 tests to be done in just 24 hours.

“We now have to make sure that the enough personnel needed to speed up the testing process are recruited so that from next week onwards we can move on to rapid testing,” Dr Majoro said.

The premier also called on the nation to prioritise Covid-19 prevention measures, saying in the absence of a cure prevention was the only hope of saving people from the deadly virus.

“We do not have enough capacity in our health facilities to take in all Covid-19 patients. We do not have enough hospitals which are fully equipped to treat Covid-19 patients. We don’t have enough nurses, doctors and specialists but at the same time it is very risky for Covid-19 patients to be nursed at home.

“Therefore, our plan is to make sure that we explore all the preventive measures and avoid the further spread of Covid-19. This includes increasing the testing capacity as we will now do with this testing laboratory.

“When we know our infection rate, we will then trace all the contacts of patients, quarantine them and have them tested as well.

“We are very grateful to many people and in particular we would like to thank Ntate (business tycoon) Sam Matekane who bought us a Polymerase Chain-reaction Machine (PCRM) for testing and contributed to the construction of the Covid-19 laboratory,” Dr Majoro said.

Speaking at the same occasion, Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo said the launch of the testing facility will help the country step up its fight against Covid-19 as the increase in testing will allow more people to know their status and also enable quicker tracing and isolation of the contacts of patients.

Assuming 2000 tests are conducted per day, this would mean 14 000 people will be tested per week, a figure almost double the 8771 who have been tested to date. This would mean that 56 000 people will be tested per month, translating to 672 000 people tested per year.

At this rate, Lesotho would need just over three years to test its entire 2, 1 million people. This may not be fast enough to effectively fight the pandemic.

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