Scare as COVID-19 infections surge nationally
TEBOHO KHATEBE MOLEFI and
MASERU – Members of the National Assembly on Wednesday urged the government to weigh up the impact of COVID-19 infection in the country, in light of a sudden surge in confirmed cases as recorded by the health ministry. They want the government to report to the House for deliberations.
Legislators also sought a special provision to be made to allocate more time for debate, advice and recommendations on the subject once government has come through with a statement. Basotho National Party representative, Chief Joang Molapo, said “the 20 minutes within which each of us is allowed to talk to an issue for discussion is not enough to debate and make a worthwhile input on the subject at hand, which is clearly becoming a national crisis that needs to be attended to with the seriousness it deserves.”
The Minister of Health, Motlatsi Maqelepo, said he noted the seriousness of the matter and committed to preparing a statement to update the National Assembly on the state of COVID-19 in the country in light of the recent surge in infections. “The situation traverses a lot of issues, and it can only be wise for me to go back and prepare a thorough statement on this issue in order to cover all areas. “The statement will actually be tabled as a national address by the prime minister due to its magnitude and sensitivity,” Maqelepo said.
Lesotho recorded its first confirmed COVID-19 case on May 13, only a week after the country lifted its national lockdown that had been in place beginning on March 29, and made Lesotho the last of the 54 African states to confirm and report an infection. The Ministry of Health this week reported the detection of five new additional COVID-19 cases – three Basotho with travel history to South Africa, one Mosotho with no travel history and a South African national. The number of cumulative cases have, as a result, risen to 17, while recoveries remain at two.
The ministry, through the National Emergency Command Centre (NECC), has also confirmed having received reports from its Zimbabwe counterpart that the country has recorded four COVID-19 imported from Lesotho. Lesotho’s COVID-19 tests are conducted at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. As of Wednesday South Africa, from where most of Lesotho’s infections have been imported, stood at 106 000 cumulative number of confirmed cases, with 55 045 recoveries and 2 101 deaths. Up to 1.4 million people have been tested for the virus since it was first detected in the country in March.
But in a positive move the neighbouring republic on the same day kick-started its COVID-19 vaccine trial, with the director of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA), Professor Shabir Madhi, on Tuesday announcing the clinical Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial was intended to find a vaccine that will prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Shabir made the remarks at a virtual press conference hosted by South Africa’s Witwatersrand University to launch the trial, during which he further said they are working with the University of Oxford and the Oxford Jenner Institute on the trial.
He said: “We began screening participants for the South African Oxford 1 COVID-19 vaccine trial last week and the first participants will be vaccinated this week. “This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic. As we enter the winter season in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever we need a vaccine to prevent infection by COVID-19.” Wits University Vice-Principal and Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Zeblon Vilakazi, who facilitated the virtual press conference, said they identified vaccinology as a key institutional flagship project in 2016.
He said: “Vaccines are amongst the most powerful tools to mitigate life-threatening diseases. Without a vaccine against COVID-19, there will likely be ongoing contagion, causing severe illness and death. Wits is committed to developing a vaccine to save lives.” South African Health Products Regulatory Authority chairperson, Helen Rees, said at the same conference that they reviewed and approved the trial. Rees, who is also Executive Director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, said they want more research in the field.
“It is essential that vaccine studies are performed in the Southern hemisphere countries, including in the African region, concurrently with studies in northern hemisphere countries. This allows evaluation of the efficacy and safety of candidate vaccines to be assessed in a global context, failing which the introduction of many life-saving vaccines into public immunisation programmes for low-middle income countries frequently lags behind those in high-income countries,” he said.
Brazil is about to start the same trial while the United Kingdom has already enrolled over 4 000 participants for the same project. More than 30 000 participants are lined up for trials in the United States. The Director General of Health in the National Department of Health, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, welcomed the developments.
“The National Department of Health is excited at the launch of this vaccine trial, which will go a long way to cement South Africa’s leadership in the scientific space. “With COVID-19 infections increasing every day, the development of the vaccine will be the last solution in the long term, and we are fully behind the team leading this trial,” he said. There are currently over 100 candidate COVID-19 vaccines in development around the world. This South African trial, which is the first of its kind on the continent, should be good news to Lesotho and other countries in the region.