LESOTHO is at risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) infections from South Africa by people who take advantage of porous borders to illegally enter the country, Deputy Minister of Health ‘Manthabiseng Phohleli has said.
Comoros and Lesotho are the only two countries in Africa yet to record any cases of the deadly COVID-19 which had infected close to 3 million people and killed over 200 000 worldwide by yesterday.
Hemmed in all sides by South Africa which had recorded just over 4200 infections and about 80 deaths by yesterday, Ms Phohleli recently told the Sunday Express that Lesotho was at risk of infections brought into the country by people illegally crossing into Lesotho from its more populous and virus-hit neighbour. She said the government had identified the Quthing, Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong districts as the hotspots for illegal crossings into the country.
She said more security forces had been deployed to the borders and they were working with community leaders to ensure that all illegal immigrants were sent to the nearest health facilities for screening for COVID-19.
“We have received reports that many people especially Basotho living and working in South Africa are continuously entering the country through porous borders,” Ms Phohleli said, adding, “It is a big challenge for us and we are threatened by the high number of people who cross into the country using illegal routes”.
“We have also identified the routes which people are using to illegally enter the country and the Dele-Dele route in Quthing has recorded the highest number of illegal crossings. This is a real challenge. Quthing has many porous borders and this is a clear example of the challenge at hand. Residents opt to run their daily errands in South Africa arguing that travelling and purchasing goods in South Africa is cheaper than in the Quthing district.
“Other routes are in the Qacha’s Nek and Mokhotlong districts. Army personnel deployed there are given non-contact thermometers for them to screen people right away.”
She said while border-jumping was serious crime, this was not the time to be sanctioning offenders. She said it was more important to ensure that when caught, the suspects had to be sent to the nearest health facilities for screening for COVID-19. She said the government had even instructed the army not to harass or ill-treat suspects but take them for screening.
“This is not the time for us to sanction such people for their criminal behaviour but we must ensure that they are taken to the nearest health facilities and screened for COVID-19 immediately after they enter the country.”
On his part, Health Minister Nkaku Kabi said his ministry was prepared to screen every person entering the country legally or illegally.
“Although we do not condone any illegal movements between the two countries, we are ready to screen even illegal immigrants to minimise the spread of the virus in the country,” Mr Kabi said.