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Not yet uhuru for Basotho despite opening of SA borders

Limpho Sello

THE opening of South Africa’s borders will not necessarily translate into a reciprocal opening of Lesotho’s borders to allow Basotho to travel to and from the neighbouring country as they had always done before the lockdown to curb the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19), the Disaster Management Authority (DMA)’s chief executive officer Thabo Khasipe has said.

South Africa has announced plans to re-open its borders on 1 October 2020. The borders were closed in March this year to fight Covid-19. The South African government has said that Lesotho nationals will only be allowed in upon production of a certificate indicating that they had tested negative for Covid-19 72 hours before the intended trip.

The imminent opening up of South Africa’s borders has generated a lot of excitement in Lesotho and fuelled expectations that Lesotho will reciprocate by opening its own borders as well.

However, Mr Khasipe, whose DMA is tasked with spearheading the country’s response to Covid-19, yesterday advised the need to proceed with caution.

He said Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro would “definitely” address the nation on the issue before the end of the month. He said the premier’s speech will speak to Lesotho’s state of preparedness and strategies as the country was likely to have an influx of travellers from South Africa.

He said the DMA was busy working on inputs to that statement. Although he refused to give away the likely contents of the premier’s speech, Mr Khasipe suggested that due to the much higher rate of infections in South Africa, it would not be prudent not to allow every Mosotho into the neighbouring tasks for reasons such as shopping and entertainment.

“One would say because of the high infection rate (in South Africa) we still need to restrict movement and only allow people who need to do essential services such as medical check-ups and business dealers to go there so that we are able to get supplies, Mr Khasipe said.

“South Africa’s infection rate is much higher than ours and we should also be avoiding the imported cases.”

As of yesterday, South Africa’s total number of infections stood at 668 529 out of a population of 59, 4 million. Of these, 599 149 people had recovered, 16 312 had died and 53 068 were still battling the disease.

In contrast, Lesotho has so far recorded 1558 infections, 35 deaths and 797 recoveries.

However, Lesotho’s figures may be grossly understated because the country has only tested 18 322 people out of a population of 2, 1 million.

Mr Khasipe said Lesotho was currently able to test only a maximum of 2000 people a day. He said they anticipated challenges arising from South Africa’s demand that Basotho visiting that country had to be tested 72 hours before traveling to the neighbouring country.

“We are currently able to test 2000 specimens. So, there will be a challenge to conduct our daily tests as well those of people wishing to travel to South Africa on a daily basis.

“If we are to prioritise the testing of travellers whose certificates will have to be renewed every 72 hours then our usual ordinary tests will be compromised,” Mr Khasipe said.

He however, counselled patience, saying the prime minister’s speech will address most of the concerns relating to the opening of the borders.

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