Covid-19: Lesotho seals borders amid infection fears while SA tourism suffers
With the expected return of South Africans based in Wuhan, China, this morning, neighbouring Lesotho has allegedly sealed its borders in an attempt to prevent the Covid-19 pandemic from crossing them.
The Mountain Kingdom is the first African country to take a cue from the US that issued a Europe travel ban.
Over 100 South Africans who live in China are expected to land in a chartered plane this morning before being taken to quarantine at Protea The Ranch Hotel in Polokwane, Limpopo.
The people will be quarantined at the hotel for between 14 and 21 days.
The Lesotho government has taken drastic measures to close all its borders. While the mountain kingdom is halting travel, the Chinese embassy in South Africa says it has continued giving out visas to locals.
On Tuesday, Lesotho’s principal secretary and national contact point Tsolo Motena sent communication to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to inform it on the decision to close its borders.
“This correspondence serves to inform the SADC secretariat that the Lesotho government has suspended all travel from and into Lesotho,” the statement read.
She added that this was imposed as a precaution against risk of infection by the coronavirus.
The Star called Motena’s office and was informed that the decision was not final. Once confirmed, Lesotho will join countries like Italy and the US to have restricted travel as a result of the virus.
Yesterday, the National Department of Health confirmed three new cases of the disease, taking the number up to 16.
Mpumalanga recorded its first case. A man in the Free State was thought to be infected after being in contact with a Chinese businessman. Tests cleared him.
Despite the increase in pandemic numbers, the Chinese embassy said the disease had not quelled people’s desire to visit the Asian country.
Embassy spokesperson Du Ping said that despite the novel coronavirus outbreak, visa applications were being processed as usual.
“It is also happy to note that there are no travel restrictions on our two countries, and the people-to-people exchanges remain smooth even during this harsh period,” she said.
“We are standing firmly with South Africa to jointly prevent and control the spread of the epidemic and win the global battle between humans and nature,” she said.
On Thursday, The Star reported that Bruma Oriental Mall and Dragon City in Crown Mines were already facing challenges due to the coronavirus, which had forced 10 shops to close.
The United Herzlia Schools in Cape Town have suspended classes for a week and the King David High School in Linksfield has told pupils who stay with relatives who had travelled to Europe to remain home for 14 days as a precaution after a parent tested positive for the disease.
This week, Tourism Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said the local tourism industry was undergoing a severe crisis.
“The outbreak of the coronavirus in December 2019 has already affected the tourism industry very negatively and this will continue until the world finds a way of containing this virus,” she said.
Kubayi-Ngubane said should there be an increase of cases, the sector would have to consider closing popular tourist attractions, leading to closure of businesses and possibly severe job losses.
“In this scenario, the industry takes an extended period to recover.”
She also added that if cases grow rapidly in the country and the virus spreads to the SADC region and most of sub-Saharan Africa, it may prompt countries in the region to seal their borders.
“In this scenario, the global economy descends into a recession and our country’s economy suffers significant contraction for the year 2020.”
However, the minister said post the virus, work will be doubled to restore the country’s brand and to promote South Africa as a tourist destination of choice.
“We will reduce spending on marketing, especially global marketing given that in the current environment we are unlikely to make the impact we want with our marketing initiatives. We will conserve the funds for use in the future to reposition the country through various programmes including incentives and mega events,” she said.