Outcry over govt Covid stance

 KENEUOE NKUOATSANA AND NEO KHOBATHA

Maseru – The Sunday evening impromptu announcement by Deputy Prime Minister Mathibeli Mokhothu that the government will immediately bar unvaccinated Basotho from specific public places has caused an outcry among civic bodies and some citizens who have expressed concerns about potential rights violations.

In an interview with Public Eye yesterday, the Lesotho National Federation of Organisations of the Disabled (LNFOD)’s Executive Director Advocate Nkhasi Sefuthi, said the announcement raises concerns of discrimination since some people would have to be denied their right to access services from certain places in order to comply with the order. “The DPM’s national address raises questions of discrimination because some people will be denied their right to access certain services and visit some places if they are not vaccinated,” Sefuthi said. He added that people have the right to challenge that statement in a court if they feel discriminated against in any way that affects their livelihood.

While supporting and encouraging Basotho to vaccinate some human rights bodies are considering mounting a challenge against the government’s decision or at least fight for consensus on how the Covid-19 vaccination policy should be carried out. In a national address on Sunday evening, Mokhothu announced that selected public services will no longer be accessible for people who do not have Covid vaccination certificates.

“We have taken the decision to allow only the people who have vaccinated to get certain public services. From the 1st of November everyone who is not vaccinated shall be barred from the following places: bars, restaurants, BnBs, concerts, gyms and many others,” Mokhothu told the nation. He said the drastic move was taken to curb the threat of spreading Covid-19.

The announcement immediately went viral on social media platforms and the following morning, Monday this week, long queues could be seen at vaccination centres around Maseru. Earlier Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro outlined the vaccination plan but said this did not mean authorities were forcing people to vaccinate. He explained it was only an encouragement for the citizens to act and take the responsibility of protecting themselves and other people’s lives.

The government of Lesotho is targeting at least 1.6 million Basotho to be vaccinated and so far about 575,000 citizens above 18 years of age have received the jab, with enough vaccine doses reportedly available to cover the targeted population.

However, there have also been dissenting voices against the vaccine for different reasons ranging from religion to just mere anti-vaccine campaigns that may not necessarily be rooting in any scientific reasoning. Kali oa Kobotata (not his real name) said: “I am fully against this vaccination agenda. Food stores and street vendors will have to decide whether or not they want the vaccination card or they want money because I personally don’t want to be forced to vaccinate against my will”.

He argues that as a citizen entitled to full rights enshrined in the Constitution of Lesotho he cannot be denied public services merely because he does not want to vaccinate. Another youth who only wanted to be identified as Mabona said: “Everyone has the right of freedom of conscience and as of this moment I feel like my right is being trampled upon if I will be barred from getting basic services from the government just because I choose not to vaccinate”.

“If I can’t eat at a restaurant or get to watch games live, then why would I be expected to join the queues to cast my vote in the coming elections?” he asked. Other people interviewed said since they were told vaccinating does not completely protect them from Covid-19 why then should they be compelled to vaccinate at all. They accused the government of subtly forcing people to vaccinate by denying them access to some key day to day services which they said raises eyebrows on its own.

“I went to traffic this morning and I could not be helped because I didn’t have a vaccination card, which is absurd,” said one man who identified himself as Relebohile. What he said he failed to understand was why the traffic offices should not be accessed by unvaccinated people yet nowhere in the DPM’s speech does it say the traffic department is also included among the places not to be accessed without a vaccination card.

“No person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner in respect of access to shops, hotels, lodging houses, public restaurants, eating places and so on AND subject to the provision of Subsection 6, no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person acting by virtue of any written law or in the performance of functions of any public office or public authority,” he quoted the Constitution in an interview yesterday to prove his point. The varied arguments being brought up seem to suggest more education is needed to secure the general population’s buy-in in the vaccination campaign.

’Mateboho Mosebekoa, PRO of NACOSEC said: “We work with the control of Covid-19 and it is our job to advise the ministers and Prime Minister with what the solution should be regarding the prevention. We have informed the nation about how the vaccination plan will be rolled out. From the beginning we emphasised that we would start with the people who are at higher risk, especially health workers, government officials, law enforcement agencies, the elderly and so on on until we are at this point where we vaccinate everyone who is 18 years and above”. In addition, vaccinating does not mean that the virus will not infect a person but it will reduce the severity of illness when it attacks one’s immune system which would reduce hospitalisation should a person be infected because we already have less resources to treat Covid-19 patients, she explained.

Mosebekoa further explained that the importance of vaccination is not a new topic as NACOSEC began education on vaccination and the steps to be followed as well as who is eligible to vaccinate a long time ago. “We began teaching about vaccines even before the Covid-19 regulations. This was to help the public make informed decisions when vaccination time arrived,” she said. She added that vaccination is not beneficial on an individual basis only but at public interest level as it will bring positive impacts on the country’s economy, health and safety.

The country’s lack of resources in terms of containment and treatment of the virus are some of the factors leading to the vaccination appeal of the masses with the hope that reaching at least 1.6 million people will go a long way in reducing the risk of future infection waves. “We have only two hospitals that treat Covid-19 in the country and we cannot afford to face the same problem we did in the period between last December and January of Covid-19 related infections and deaths,” added Mosebekoa.

Palesa Mokhethi, a nurse explained that the vaccines protect the body from the virus by strengthening the immune system and empowering it to fight the virus, adding it protects the vaccinated from severe illness that might require hospitalisation. “Not only are the unvaccinated vulnerable to the virus but they also put the lives of those they associate with in danger as they become transporters of the virus,” said Mokhethi.

Health professionals said if more of Basotho get vaccinated the Covid-19 lockdown regulations and protocols would be rendered unnecessary which will bring hope for some businesses and a chance for survival for those facing closure. Some of those interviewed explained there is a lot of misleading information about vaccines but with proper education channels, an understanding will be achieved and more people will come forward for vaccination.

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