Previously one of the few places in the world to remain free of coronavirus, Lesotho recorded its first COVID-19 case on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.

The southern African mountain kingdom enjoyed the tag of being the only ‘COVID-19-free country’ on the continent. “The Ministry of Health informed the Basotho nation and the entire community living in Lesotho, that the country now has the first confirmed case of COVID-19,” Director-General Dr Nyane Letsie said.

Lesotho’s health ministry disclosed that it conducted 81 coronavirus tests on travellers from neighbouring South Africa and Saudi Arabia, of which one was positive. The patient is a Lesotho national studying in Saudi Arabia. The ministry also revealed that it is awaiting results for 301 tests which were done and sent to neighbouring South Africa.

A report by the U.N. humanitarian aid coordination agency two days ago had put COVID-19 case figures for East and southern Africa at almost 18,000, with all countries affected except Lesotho. The high-altitude kingdom of more than two million citizens is surrounded by its bigger, more industrialised neighbour, South Africa which has the highest cases of coronavirus on the African continent.

Lesotho went into lockdown on March 29 to protect itself from a potential spread of the virus from South Africa, however, Lesotho’s Prime Minister Thomas Thabane loosened the restrictions on May 6 allowing “all non-essential services and enterprises to temporarily open shop.” Nevertheless, with many Lesotho nationals ignoring the government’s plea not to illegally cross back into the country from neighbouring South Africa, a surge of new infections in Lesotho is likely to take place.

Last week, Thabane expressed disappointment that hundreds of people were taking advantage of the two countries’ porous borders to illegally come back into Lesotho. Thabane said “such actions could sharply increase the number of infections in Lesotho.” Additionally, Health ministry official, Makhoase Ranyali-Otubanjo stated that in last week alone 1,000 people had returned from South Africa, whose border with Lesotho remained closed because of the pandemic.

As the last nation in Africa to record a coronavirus infection, Lesotho is at an advantage in responding efficiently to prevent further spread of the pandemic. This is because the country had ample time to prepare ahead for the virus and has numerous case studies from its neighbouring countries and all other nations in Africa to learn from. Basic protocols like mass testing, enforcing a face-mask rule, encouraging social distancing, sensitization, and instituting hand-washes at strategic points in the country will go a long way in preventing a surge in new infections.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 outbreak has struck at a time of political uncertainty in Lesotho, with Thabane due to step down by the end of the next week after his coalition collapsed in parliament. It is unclear when he will step down, although parliament has already provisionally named Finance Minister Moeketsi Majoro as his replacement.

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