The outbreak of the coronavirus has caused scare-mongering in Lesotho, where some textile workers downed tools last week in protest of the return of Chinese workers who had gone home for the holidays.
Last Tuesday, factory workers at Tzicc Clothing downed tools after their Chinese colleagues were separated from them and started wearing masks.
Samuel Mokhele, secretary general of the National Clothing Textile and Allied Workers Union, said when they heard there were some Chinese workers returning to the factories, they immediately approached the ministry of health.
“We were informed by our members that there are Chinese workers whose noses are covered [with masks],” Mokhele said.
He said the ministries of health and labour and employment organised visits to the factories to observe the situation on the ground. He said their fears were allayed by the Minister of Health Nkaku Kabi, who confirmed that some workers who have just returned from China.
However, Kabi assured them that they had not contracted the deadly virus.
Mokhele said they have appealed to government to put in place policies and interventions to protect Basotho.
“This disease could wreak havoc in the country if it is not controlled [properly],” he said.
He said Kabi told them that everyone entering the country was being screened at all border entry points, including the airport in Maseru.
Mokhele said union members had told them that they usually mingled with the Chinese workers and the move by the management to separate them was what concerned them.
Solong Senohe, the United Textile Employees’ secretary general, also said their members at the factories were worried about the coronavirus spreading if no controls were put in place to protect the locals.
He said they approached the ministry of health to discuss the impact of the virus and to get more information about the coronavirus and how to prevent it from spreading.
Senohe said at three factories where they have members, workers were not willing to work because they were afraid of being infected with the coronavirus.
He said only at the Formosa Textile Company, 14 Chinese nationals have been isolated from the other staff members pending the results of the tests carried out on them.
“I am not sure how many Chinese workers have been isolated in the other factories,” Senohe said.
He said the union had received reports that the Chinese factory owners were running out of materials they use to make good for export.
Senohe said no cloth is being imported into Lesotho from China because of the coronavirus outbreak. He said because the Chinese investors were unable to meet the orders they have from their US customers.
With the growing threat of the coronavirus, it was highly likely that some factories would start retrenching workers because they are losing business, he said.
Senohe said the coronavirus outbreak was going to have a negative impact on Lesotho’s already weak economy.
Lesotho’s textile industry is an enclave economy and all the materials used in the factories are imported from China.
The Chinese factories bring into Lesotho almost everything – from machinery to materials – when to invest in the country.
The health minister said the Chinese workers in the factories would be kept in quarantine for at least 14 days to ensure that they don’t have the coronavirus.
The Lesotho textile industry employs more than 40 000 workers, mostly local women.
Most of the textile goods are sold in the US through the African Growth Opportunity Act, which allows goods to enter the American market duty free.
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