US citizens warned against travel to Lesotho

KANANELO BOLOETSE

MASERU – The United States of America (USA) this week urged its citizens to avoid travelling to Lesotho and other 15 destinations reporting high transmission of the Coronavirus. Numbers of new infections attributable to the highly transmissible delta variant are rising in Lesotho, coupled with low vaccination rates across the country. Authorised coronavirus vaccines remain highly effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalisations and death from the delta variant.

However, fully vaccinated people with breakthrough infections –which are still considered rare – can spread the virus. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), destinations that fall into the “very high” risk category have had more than 500 cases per 100 000 residents in 28 days. Lesotho meets this definition. As at July 1, the country had reported 11 544 confirmed cases of Covid-19. As at July 31 it had 13 603 positive cases.

“Avoid travel to these destinations. If you must travel to these destinations, make sure you are fully vaccinated before travel,” CDC said on August 2. The 16 destinations which moved to the CDC’s level 4: Covid-19 very high category on Monday included Lesotho, Greece, Iran, Ireland, Libya, Malta and Kazakhstan, Andorra, Curacao, Gibraltar, Guadeloupe, Isle of Man, Martinique, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Martin and US Virgin Islands.

“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk of getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants,” the agency says. Lesotho recorded its first coronavirus case on May 13 last year, becoming the last nation on the African continent to confirm an infection.

It recorded its first death related to Covid-19 on July 9 last year, by which time confirmed cases had climbed to 134. That number has only grown in the months since and Lesotho has now become one of the countries with high transmission. On July 22 this year, Prime Minister Dr Moeketsi Majoro announced that due to the increasing number of new infections, cabinet had decided to put the country on the purple colour code stage of the Covid-19 risk mitigation restrictions.

In January, Public Eye reported that there were many reasons infections and the death toll were climbing in the country and indicated that one of them was that the government fumbled in the early days of the country’s outbreak, when the chances of containing and stopping the virus were highest.

The government also delayed to finally lay out its vaccination blueprint and, despite public outcry over a lack of planning, the government is placing high hopes on donated vaccines. Lesotho received 36 000 vaccines in March this year as part of an initial tranche of deliveries of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

The government said the shipment was the first tranche of many that would be allocated to Lesotho in the coming months and year through the COVAX Facility, which is working to accelerate the development of and access to Covid-19 vaccines.

The COVAX facility is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation (WHO) working in partnership with UNICEF as well as the World Bank, manufacturers, civil society organisations, and others. Last month Lesotho received 302 400 doses of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) single shot vaccine donated by the US through the COVAX facility.

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