Funerals under spotlight as virus super spreaders




MASERU – The government has reiterated its policy on keeping funerals attendance at only 50 persons per funeral as provided by law to contain the spread of COVID-19. Large crowds have been identified as super spreaders of the virus and to contain the spread, large gatherings have been prohibited. According to the 2021 Public Health Regulations, funerals are now limited to approximately 50 persons and it is illegal to have more than 50 attendees.

Funeral organisers who fail to comply with the guidelines could be jailed or fined. A recent circular by the Minister of Local Government and Chieftainship, Tsoinyane Rapapa, urges members of the public to strictly adhere to the funeral guidelines in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

Area chiefs, village health workers and community councillors have been identified as key players in ensuring that funeral services abide by the regulations. According to the circular, it is the responsibility of the area chiefs to enforce Public Health Regulations at all funerals happening under their watch. “It is expected that councillors, village health workers and area chiefs will work hand in hard in enforcing the regulations,” reads the notice in part.

It further states that it is the responsibility of area chiefs and councillors to raise awareness about COVID-19 and educate villagers on how to conduct themselves at funerals. The ministry says it will train them (area chiefs and councilors) on COVID-19 issues, as well as availing Personal Protective Clothing (PPE) for their use.

The government says while an investigation has revealed that funerals remain by far the worst super spreader, members of the public still attend funerals in large numbers and hardly comply with the regulations. The ministry has, a result, put a number of measures in a form of recommendations to redeem the situation.

For instance, it is now recommended that corpses be buried the same day in villages where mortuaries are not easily accessible. It has also been recommended that there be no slaughtering of animals to avoid crowding and the risk of contracting the virus while funerals should run for a maximum of two hours. In a different turn of events, government has itself failed to act against cabinet members who were seen attending a funeral in numbers more than 50 as prescribed by the law.

Deputy Prime Minister, Mathibeli Mokhothu, along with home affairs minister Motlalentoa Letsosa were among officials seen attending the late Major General Metsing Lekhanya’s state funeral last week. The funeral was attended by more than 50 people in contravention of the Public Health regulations. The minister’s attendance has sparked debate among Basotho who argue there is no equality before the law and that failure by government officials to comply with the country’s laws is an indication the 50 attendees margin is impossible to meet.

Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro on Tuesday said he was concerned that Lekhanya’s funeral was attended by large crowds in contravention of the regulations. This, he said, happened despite directing organisers of the funeral to ensure compliance with the 2021 Public Health Regulations. Majoro maintained that funerals are super spreaders hence his decision to deliver his address virtually.

The head of state, King Letsie III, also addressed the mourners virtually. According to the 2021 Public Health Regulations, Area Chiefs, priests and families responsible for organising funerals failing to comply with the regulations risk imprisonment and could also be fined M5 000 upon conviction.

The regulations outline that upon conviction, organisers may be fined or imprisoned for a period not exceeding six months or fined the 5 000 fee. They could also be imprisoned and fined at the same time. A group of youth this week also wrote to Majoro urging him to take action against ministers seen contravening the lockdown regulations at Major General Lekhanya’s funeral. They contend they will take further action should the premier fail to act on his cabinet members adding that there is an urgent need to address the issue.

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