By Fr. Hosea Chale from Lesotho
To date Lesotho has seen just seventeen confirmed cases of COVID-19 making it the lowest country in the Southern African Region. So far, only 2130 persons have been tested in a national population of 2.1 million. At the time of compiling this report no fatalities had been reported.
A number of challenges have arisen as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Among these may be mentioned the geographical location of the country which is completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. South Africa has so far recorded the highest number of cases in the continent, about one hundred thousand cases. Many Basotho live and work in South Africa and as a result Lesotho remains at a high risk of infection. In fact, the lock-down in March in neighbouring South Africa saw many Basotho return home. Some of these returnees used illegal entry points into the country and as such evaded screening at the official points of entry. Not being tested means that they cannot be tracked should they be positive and this places some risks to the local communities.
In the intervening period the Lesotho Catholic Church has been active in raising awareness around the COVID-19 pandemic and continues to engage in behaviour that may slow its growth. Among the noteworthy activities may be mentioned social distancing, with churches ceasing to conduct public liturgical celebrations since the 29th of March. The faithful have gone without the assistance of the sacraments for a while now nor have we seen any retreats or workshops and other gatherings. This has presented an unprecedented challenge to the Church and society of Lesotho. As a result of the lock-down and social distancing imposed by the state and welcomed by the church, livelihoods have been disturbed. This has affected the missionary work of the Church which depends on the Church communities themselves. Moreover, the charity work of the Church, so important during this period, is terribly hampered as material resources are not as available as before.
Yet there are good news on the horizon as it has been announced that Church services will resume on the fifth of July with certain conditions. Among these conditions include a limit to the number of people attending a service at any given time, ensuring the recommended distance between persons in the church building, limiting the service to one hour. Priests have been encouraged to hold as many services as possible. This is as long as the number allows for the recommended social distancing. Other noteworthy activities include the washing of hands with soap and water or an alcohol based sanitizer at the entrance of the Church building and the disinfection of the Church building prior to and after a service. Moreover, all attendees are expected to wear the mask, including the priest, and allowing the reception of Holy Communion only by hand.
Church officials are further warned to continue emphasizing the importance of following all health precautions and staying informed so that the congregation remains healthy and minimize the risk of contracting the virus. In order to assist this process, a register of those present at the Church will always be signed so as to enable contact tracing in the event of someone tests positive to the virus. It has also been resolved that Church services can only be held on Sundays and feast days. The Church in Lesotho, despite the adverse conditions visited upon it by the COVID-19 pandemic, continues to respond to the great mission of Jesus that ‘all may have life and have it to the full (Cf. John 10:10). The mission of the Church, even during this pandemic, is in the little acts of saving lives and livelihoods.