Lesotho: Political Rallies Are Covid-19 Super Spreaders - Sekatle

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Political rallies are super spreaders of Covid-19 and threaten to derail the country's efforts to contain the pandemic, Health Minister Semano Sekatle has warned.

In an interview with the Lesotho Times this week, Mr Sekatle said he had seen large numbers of people at the recent rallies held by different political parties. He said the crowds did not adhere to safety regulations requiring them to practice physical distancing among other things.

Although he did not name any political parties, this could have been in reference to the ruling All Basotho Convention (ABC) and Professor Nqosa Mahao's newly-formed Basotho Action Party (BAP) which both held weekend rallies in Ha-Abia, Maseru and Hlotse, Leribe, respectively.

Thousands of people attended both rallies. This publication observed that there was hardly any physical distancing at both rallies. Instead people were packed and appeared to have no care in the world except applauding their leaders and singing songs deriding their political rivals.

The Lesotho Times also observed that although the party officials wore masks and used hand sanitisers, the ordinary party supporters did not do likewise or even practice physical distancing at all. Some of the people did not even wear masks at all. The rallies are being held after Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro relaxed strict lockdown regulations last month.

A fortnight ago, National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) chief executive officer (CEO), 'Malitaba Litaba, told this publication that they had advised Dr Majoro to reimpose the ban on political and other public gatherings due to the outbreak of a third wave of Covid-19 in South Africa including the neighbouring Free State province. However, the advice has gone unheeded and this has seemingly prompted Mr Sekatle to appeal to the conscience of political leaders over the issue.

"We have to appeal to political parties to be aware that rallies are dangerous spreaders and they should reconsider the way their rallies are held," Mr Sekatle said.

Asked what other measures they were implementing to address the threat posed by political rallies besides appealing to politicians, Mr Sekatle said: "At NACOSEC they hold stakeholders' forums where all these issues are discussed and decisions are made there. It is at this meeting that all the questions you are asking will be addressed."

He said their biggest fear was importing Covid-19 confections from South Africa hence they had prioritised strengthening border controls to prevent this from happening.

"We are very much aware that the internal Covid-19 situation is not a big problem now. Our bigger problem is the possible importation of infections through our borders.

"Our borders are porous and as such, we have had to reinforce security at all entry points. We have also engaged community leaders to remain vigilant and to ensure that people who arrive in the villages from South Africa are free from the virus and have been screened at the borders," Mr Sekatle said.

Meanwhile, NACOSEC Deputy CEO Thabo Ntoi yesterday said they were "deeply concerned" about the failure to abide by health protocols at political rallies and other public gatherings.

Mr Ntoi said their analysis had shown that many people were now suffering from "fatigue" when it came to observing public health regulations due to the fact that they have been observing such regulations for more than a year since the pandemic broke out.

He said they had therefore resolved to call for a meeting tomorrow to discuss the issue with stakeholders who include political parties.

"At this meeting, we will hear from them what is causing the fatigue and how they can get back to adhering to the regulations to avoid a situation where we are eventually defeated by Covid-19.

"Failure to adhere would lead to a rise in infections and deaths will rise. This would then compel us to implement a hard lockdown and we do not want that because we know that it negatively affects the economy," Mr Ntoi said.

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