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SA, Lesotho agree to share COVID-19 testing load

Staff Reporter

The governments of South Africa and Lesotho have agreed to conduct COVID-19 antigen rapid tests on either side of the Ficksburg and Maseru border posts in order to clear the long queues at the two ports of entry.

Free State Health MEC Montseng Tsiu says she met with the Lesotho health authorities on Monday following a request by South Africa’s National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) for support as it was struggling to cope with the high volumes of people returning from the end-of-year holidays.

“The meeting resolved that Lesotho will start testing from their side of the border using the same test-kits as NHLS so as to assist in reducing the queues,” said Tsiu on Wednesday.

The NHLS has been providing testing services at the borders. They are providing COVID-19 antigen rapid tests for people who show up at the borders without Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests not older than 72 hours.

“Unfortunately, the number of people that had to be tested, particularly at the Maseru and Ficksburg border posts, was too high and the NHLS could not cope even with increased staff,” said Tsiu.

“In some cases, people had to stand in queues for more than 24 hours and others had to be returned.”

The MEC described the cooperation agreement by the two countries as a groundbreaking initiative because some people were using illegal means to cross the border in order to avoid presenting the test results.

“Those people might be positive and could have brought COVID-19 into our country and spread it unknowingly,” she explained.

“This will help us curb the spread of COVID-19 from Lesotho into South Africa and also from South Africa into Lesotho.”

With the new arrangement, those that come with authentic negative certificates for COVID-19 will be allowed to go through the border after being screened.

They will not be required to stand in the same queue as those that are still to be tested.

Tsiu said Lesotho citizens who test positive will be handed over to their government and will be taken to quarantine sites in that country.

Their contacts will also be traced.

South African citizens who test positive will be taken to quarantine facilities here.

“There is better management of the situation now as Lesotho has already started testing,” she said.

“It’s however expected to acquire more test-kits as it was not prepared to handle the anticipated high volumes of people returning from the end-of-year holidays.”

South Africa now has a cumulative total of 1 127 759 positive COVID-19 cases.

About 30 524 people have succumbed to the disease while 920 879 people or 81.6 percent have recovered.

The country presently has about 176 356 active cases.

Figures in the Free State have been rising steadily and the province now has a cumulative total of 63 981 positive cases.

There have been 2 203 deaths in the province and 55 214 people have recovered from the disease.

Meanwhile, Mafube, Sasolburg and Parys police stations have been temporarily closed due to cases of COVID-19.

The three police stations will undergo decontamination in the next few days before they are opened to the public again.

The detectives’ offices in Sasolburg have also been affected and are currently closed.

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