It is day 18 of the national lockdown in Lesotho that spans from midnight 29th March to the 21st of April 2020. The nation has been urged to stay at home as coronavirus COVID-19 continues to forcibly penetrate countries around the world. Schools, churches, businesses and social watering holes alike have closed their doors in a bid to restrict the spread of this disease. Lesotho’s government, through the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC), provides the public with updates as to the response being made in relation to this global pandemic during this period of prohibition.
It remains at the discretion of respective countries as to the length of a lockdown, and the methods to be employed to enforce it. Extreme situations may warrant extreme reactions, but the implementation thereof needs to maintain and respect human dignity. The deployment of the army and increased police presence to enforce compliance is in such times justified, but their individual and collective conduct needs to remain in line with the mandate to safeguard our people. When those who are expected to serve and protect react with undue severity in reprimanding what they deem as insolence, it is, to say the least, disappointing, and cannot be condoned.
As statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that positive COVID-19 cases globally now exceed two million, nations are extending their state lockdowns. Meanwhile, of the fifty-five (55) member states of the African Union, Lesotho and Comoros are the remaining two countries with no cases of COVID-19. South Africa, by whom we are bordered on all sides, has reported over 2000 confirmed cases – currently the highest number on the continent. Let us take as a blessing that Lesotho has reached this stage of this global crisis with no cases, however this cannot lull people into a false sense of security. Now more than ever, as we hope and pray for the best, we need to prepare and make contingency for the worst. Testing is a crucial element in working to combat this virus. The provision of Personal and Protective Equipment (PPEs) must be mandatory for front-line healthcare workers, as well as COVID-19 skills training as these are the people who are risking their own lives in order to help rescue those of others.
Lesotho benefits from being able to follow the template of our larger neighbor, South Africa. While it is advisable to look to the examples of other countries as reference points and case studies, resolutions need to remain specific to the context and demographic environment of each country.
It’s a heavy task to develop options which take into consideration the impact had on those affected. In times of uncertainty, people need leadership as we look to those in authority to give direction and guidance as to what can be done going forward. Reassurance needs to be given that the challenges ahead can be overcome, even when there is uncertainty as to how. A fight of this magnitude can only be survived with joint efforts to contribute to the solutions of our country’s needs.
One consequence of this pandemic is foreseen to be an increase in the inequality gap between those who have and those who do not. The world is still reeling from the cascading descent of the global economy. The development of third world economies, already crippled with financial challenges, will be further hindered and the climb out of poverty will become a steeper one.
African countries, including Lesotho, are finding themselves having to reach out for aid from development partners such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to alleviate the mal-effects of COVID-19 that include unemployment and hunger. It is a very different lockdown that is had by those who have the means to buy food for several days at a time, and those who struggle with where they will get a meal the next morning. It becomes a situation where the prospect of going hungry at home outweighs the risk of going outside. With a population of approximately two million, a joint study by the World Bank and Lesotho Bureau of Statistics found that 75% is either poor or prone to poverty. Hunger is an existing challenge in our country, with drought damaging agricultural output and economic circumstances being such that many Basotho sleep hungry.
These are trying times, when uncertainty and fear are fueled by misinformation and propaganda that are in contradiction with the best interests of our people. Local media have taken the call to create awareness and sensitization, with public announcements heard on radio stations and as seen on our sole Lesotho Television channel. Consistent and clear information regarding the pandemic must be given to the nation. It is critical that all who have a platform, all those whom are listened to and have influence, communicate responsible and accurate messaging about COVID-19, as well as lead by example.
The participation and contributions of the private sector during the national lockdown are invaluable. Examples of local generous acts of philanthropy are the efforts of business mogul Sam Matekane in equipping a COVID-19 testing site, as well as Nthane Holdings in supporting small scale businesses and vulnerable groups with assistance worth over five (5) million Maloti. On the continent, there are media reports of aid from the public sector as government officials from countries including Kenya, Malawi and Botswana take salary cuts and pledge monetary support for the fight of this pandemic in their countries.
We are, in real time, living in a global catastrophe. The journeys of countries during this period will be documented in history. People’s lives are drastically being impacted. This disease will leave a profound mark in the chronicles of our generation. Families are losing loved ones and millions are suffering. As we continue to pray for Lesotho, let us include in our prayers those who have lost loved ones on our African continent and across the globe to this virus. It is a deep pain that one feels with the loss of a loved one. This is what COVID-19 is doing to the world.
Humanity is being put to a test as has not been seen before. The resilience of the human spirit must shine through. The road ahead may appear bleak when overshadowed by an unyielding foe. A unified and extensive assault can mitigate its impact. Humanity must endure and persevere. Let us take care and stay at home.
 www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2019/12/12/lesotho-reduces-poverty-but-nearly-half-of-the-population-remains-poor; Lesotho Poverty Assessment: Progress and Challenges in Reducing Poverty.