FRANCE is the latest country to lift the travel ban on Lesotho and several other African countries. It joins the United Kingdom (UK), the United States of America (US) and several others in lifting the bans which were imposed in late November and early December 2021 following the discovery of the Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus in South Africa and Botswana.
Over the weekend, the European Union (EU) delegation to Lesotho tweeted that France follows Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany in lifting the restrictions applied to travellers from Lesotho since the end of November”.
On its part, the French embassy in South Africa said vaccinated travellers from Lesotho and other African countries that have been removed from its Scarlet Red List could now visit France “provided they show their vaccination certificate and a negative PCR or antigen test (not older than 48 hours)”.
The embassy said that vaccinated travellers would not be quarantined. This suggests that although non-vaccinated travellers will be allowed into France, they would have to undergo quarantine first.
THE UK was the first to impose the travel ban on Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa, Angola, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Zambia and Zimbabwe in November 2021.
The ban was sharply criticised by most African countries including South Africa whose health ministry called them “premature and draconian”.
Other African countries had also criticised the ban, saying it was discriminatory and it was a throwback to the colonial times when colonial powers like the UK would make arbitrary decisions which were not in the best interests of colonised states and their peoples.
The UK subsequently lifted the travel ban on 15 December 2021, with UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, saying the Omicron variant had already spread in the UK and other countries around the world. Therefore, the travel ban on Lesotho and the other 10 African countries was no longer serving any purpose, Mr Javid said.
The US and other countries subsequently followed the UK’s example and lifted the restrictions. At the time the ban was imposed, Lesotho had not yet detected any cases of the Omicron variant.
A fortnight ago, however, the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) yesterday confirmed the presence of the variant, saying it had been detected among the samples sent to South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICR).
Lesotho has no capacity to detect the Omicron variant at its National Reference Laboratory (NRL). Early last month, the NRL sent samples for testing to South Africa’s NICR.
This after a spike in infections which the authorities feared could have been caused by the highly infectious variant which was first detected late last month in South Africa and Botswana. Although producing less severe symptoms among infected people than the earlier Delta variant, Omicron is said to be more contagious.
NACOSEC deputy CEO, Thabo Ntoi, said they believed the variant had been imported from outside the country by returning nationals who had come home for the Christmas holidays.
Mr Ntoi said they were doing everything in their power to contain the pandemic.
“We are doing everything to fight the spread of the virus. Among other things, everything is in place to test people at the ports of entry. We have also established vaccination points.
“We have seen that there have not been severe illnesses and deaths in other countries where the Omicron variant has been detected. This is because a large segment of the population (in those countries) has been vaccinated. It is therefore important for people to be jabbed while also observing other safety protocols such as wearing face masks in public places, practicing social distancing and regularly washing hands with sanitisers. We also urge companies to frequently disinfect their workplaces,” Mr Ntoi said.
Meanwhile, Lesotho had recorded a cumulative 30 853 Covid-19 infections and 679 deaths as of yesterday.