Badly exposed

Badly exposed

MASERU-A SOLDIER manhandles a driver and drags him to the edges of the road at a checkpoint near Lesotho High School along Main North One Road.
Neither of the two men wears any protective clothing for preventing the contagious coronavirus.

The soldier is clapping the driver with bare hands while his two colleagues are instructing passengers to get out of the pirate sedan taxi.
One soldier, with bare hands, opens the car doors for an elderly passenger to get out.

Passengers are not assaulted but are instructed to walk back to where they were picked because they did not have valid reasons to be in the streets during the lockdown.

They do not have permits to be out of their homes.
Only one soldier out of four at the road block is wearing latex gloves and is wearing a face mask to cover his nose and mouth.
That was on Monday morning this week.

Such scenes are commonplace at checkpoints in Lesotho as security agents vigorously enforce a lockdown imposed by the government.
But then, they are also turning into a danger not only to themselves but to other people because most of them, are working without any protective clothing such as gloves and masks.

“Should we even believe that they are here to protect us when they are not protected themselves?” asked ’Marethabile Qhosi, a resident of Ha-Thamae, Maseru’s oldest suburb.
Qhosi said she finds it “odd’ that police officers and soldiers were deployed into villages to ensure compliance with coronavirus prevention measures such as the lockdown, but leave themselves exposed to the same disease by not wearing protective clothing “as if they are immune.”

At some checkpoints such as the one at Mookoli T-junction, police officers were busy ensuring compliance but without assaulting people on Tuesday.
Still, none of them was wearing any protective clothing.
Social distancing seemed a faraway concern for them.
They pull over a car and the driver opens the window. A police officer leans closer and demands relevant documents. The non-protected driver hands the documents to him.

He receives them with his bare hands, scrutinizes them before handing them back.
Both the policeman and the driver seem oblivious to the fact that they are exposing themselves, and others they might get in contact with later to the virus.

Lesotho has not recorded any coronavirus infections yet, but the reckless behaviour by both the public and the security agents that are supposed to protect them is exposing the country to the threat of mass infections.
The country is now nearing 14 days of the lockdown and the movement of people and cars has now simmered down.
Only people in need of essential services are seen in the city.

The police and the army are deployed in almost every corner of the country to enforce the lockdown announced by Prime Minister Thomas Thabane.
Police spokesman, Superintendent Mpiti Mopeli, says the police are at risk of contracting the contagious disease.
“We do not have protective gear as the police while on duty to enforce the lockdown,” Superintendent Mopeli said.

He said they have pleaded with the National Covid-19 Command Centre housed at the ’Manthabiseng Convention Centre to get protective clothing.
He said even the health practitioners who deal directly with patients do not have adequate protective clothing.
Brigadier Ntlele Ntoi of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) said they have a limited number of protective gear.

He said they only have basic equipment like gloves and masks but do not have suits that could cover the whole bodies.
Brig Ntoi said some clothing materials are still trickling in from the government and donors to help his members who are observing the situation on the ground.

“The life of the soldier is at risk all the time,” Brig Ntoi said, adding that the situation such as the one persisting now heightens the risk.
Before the lockdown was enforced, soldiers underwent a sensitisation programme on the coronavirus and their duties in helping prevent the spread of the virus.
“We sensitised them what Covid-19 is and how it spreads,” said Brig Ntoi.

He said they “have always” struggled with budget constraints which make their logistical operations “a bit insurmountable”.
Brig Ntoi says the media should also chip in and sensitise people about the lockdown and why it is important.

He said soldiers had taken an oath to protect the country and the nation even before the coronavirus pandemic.
It is not just the security forces at risk. Other frontline workers such as health practitioners are complaining about the lack of adequate protective clothing, resulting in some going on a go-slow and attending to emergency cases only.

The Deputy Minister of Health ’Manthabiseng Phohleli said she was not aware that health practitioners do not have any protective clothing.
She said the government has dispatched protective gear to the country’s districts for onward distribution to health centres.
Phohleli pleaded with nurses not to down tools because of the absence of the protective clothing.

Majara Molupe

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