Basotho Embrace COVID-19 Vaccination but find Government Assistance Lacking
On 13 May 2020, Lesotho became the last country in Africa to report its first case of COVID-19 – weeks after declaring a state of national emergency, closing its borders with South Africa and its schools, and going into the first of several lockdowns. Two years later, Lesotho has recorded 32,968 cases and 697 deaths due to COVID-19, as well as 782,175 people who have received at least one dose of a vaccine against the virus. The pandemic and lockdown restrictions impacted every sector of Lesotho’s economy negatively. Border closures disrupted supply chains, and remittances dried up as Basotho employed in South Africa returned home when their workplaces shut down. The global economic slowdown reverberated in the textile manufacturing, diamond mining, transport, and logistics sectors. Many households confronted food insecurity. In early 2021, as the country dealt with the impacts of disastrous rains and pandemic-related lockdowns, UNICEF reported that 766,000 Basotho – 38% of the population – needed humanitarian assistance, including 321,000 children. The government introduced temporary relief measures to assist businesses through the Private Sector COVID-19 Relief Fund and vulnerable members of society through the Food Distribution Package Program. Despite these efforts, frustrated street vendors, youth, garment industry workers, and others protested in the streets, and the police responded with teargas and rubber bullets. There were also reports of police brutality in the enforcement of lockdown restrictions. A new Afrobarometer survey in Lesotho shows that more than one in three citizens say their household lost a primary source of income because of the pandemic, and only about one in seven say they received pandemic-related assistance from the government. Majorities are critical of the government’s performance in providing assistance, minimising disruptions to children’s education, and ensuring that health facilities are adequately resourced for the COVID-19 response. Most believe that “a lot” of the resources intended for the pandemic response were lost to corruption. While a slim majority approve of the use of security forces to enforce public health mandates, only minorities support postponing elections or censoring media reporting because of a pandemic. Most respondents report having been vaccinated against COVID-19, and fewer than one in 10 express a reluctance to accept the vaccine.