OP-EDs

CALL FOR INDEPENDENT INQUIRY INTO COVID-19 CRISIS

By Motsamai Mokotjo and Kananelo Boloetse

We are concerned citizens worried by the number of deaths from coronavirus in our country which we love dearly.

We are afraid that the death toll could sadly very likely keep rising unless government does what it takes to avoid that eventuality.

Lesotho recorded its first death related to coronavirus on 9 July 2020.

On 28 December 2020, almost six months after index death was recorded, the country had recorded 51 deaths.

During the past four weeks, the number of Covid-19 deaths has more than doubled. As at 26 January 2021, 146 people had died allegedly due to coronavirus, a 186 percent increase from 51 cumulative deaths reported on 28 December 2020.

In the past seven days from 20 January 2021, 33 deaths have been recorded.

According to local media, some Covid-19 patients are dying due to oxygen shortage in the Berea and Mafeteng hospitals –  the two designated Covid-19 centres in the country.

On 14 January 2021, the Post reported that Lesotho was battling with shortage of oxygen leading to a surge in Covid-19 deaths.

The following day, on 15 January 2021, Newsday reported that “the national outcry of oxygen dearth in the hospitals” was an “inexistent old-fashioned fib”.

Then a week later, on 22 January 2021, Public Eye reported that shortage of oxygen in the Covid-19 centres could be the immediate cause of death of several coronavirus patients.

Public Eye also quoted families narrating how their loved ones died due to oxygen shortage. These were potentially preventable deaths.

As concerned citizens, determined to prevent other families from enduring the same experience families quoted in the Public Eye went through, we think it is important that allegations of shortage of oxygen should be tested.

So we are calling on you, the Right Honourable Prime Minister, to immediately establish an independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of over 90 people in less than a month.

A statutory public inquiry, we believe, will yield valuable lessons that can be applied immediately to prevent unnecessary deaths in the future, and also ensure accountability for the families which are suffering.

The Honourable Prime Minister might be aware that experts have warned that South Africa faces a high risk of a third Covid-19 resurgence – a third wave – by May to June this year.

It is important that Lesotho, which is completely surrounded by South Africa, must learn lessons from the current crisis if we want to ensure that the anticipated third wave does not have the same devastating effects as the second wave.

It will be very disappointing if the country’s response to the third wave is found wanting.

The independent inquiry will look at the functioning and capacity of the identified covid-19 isolation centres to provide appropriate care to patients of Covid-19, analyse what support is available to staff in government-run hospitals such as supplies of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and assess the robustness of test and trace program.

Although it is not for us to determine the outcome of such an inquiry, we believe it will deliver findings and crucial lessons within a month that will be applied immediately to save lives as the pandemic continues.

The inquiry should be led by medical doctors nominated by the Lesotho Medical Association, nurses nominated by Lesotho Nursing Association, lawyers nominated by the Law Society of Lesotho and representatives of youth-led civil society organisations.

The inquiry’s evidence-based recommendations which will guide national response to the pandemic should be binding on government. We believe the inquiry will not accomplish its purpose if its recommendations will not be binding to whomsoever they will be directed to as they may easily be ignored, thereby rendering the whole inquiry futile.

This inquiry will without doubt, be an essential element in combating Covid-19.

We hope that the above gives the Right Honourable Prime Minister some food for thought.

We are asking you to respond as a matter of urgency and within seven days.

If the Right Honourable Prime Minister refuses to grant an urgent inquiry, as young people, we will be mobilising other young people in whose hands the future of this nation lies, to get together to ensure that this call is heard. Thanking you in advance for your cooperation. NW

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