East Africa: Traders' Body Wants Border Covid-19 Testing for Truckers Stopped

East Africa: Traders' Body Wants Border Covid-19 Testing for Truckers Stopped

The East African Business Council (EABC) wants the ongoing Covid-19 testing of truck drivers at border points stopped immediately, citing massive negative effects on cross border trade.

EABC says there are huge economic losses resulting from congestion owing to traffic snarl ups as drivers await to be cleared.

According to the council, East African member states of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi risk losing USD70 billion (Sh7 trillion) should the countries insist on having the testing done at the borders.

"Testing Covid-19 at border points should come to a stop to ease congestion of trucks which is hindering cross-border trade and reducing trade volumes, just when the region is struggling to recover from the pandemic," said the council's CEO Peter Mutuku Mathuki who addressed journalist in Kisumu.

The decision to demand an end to the testing at border points was arrived at following the council's intensive three-day visits at the Busia One Stop Border Post (OSBP), Malaba OSBP and Isebania border. The council is seeking sustainable solutions to reduce the trucks snarl-ups which have in the last one month have disrupted cross-border trade.

Impact report

According to a report released by EABC in September titled 'Impact of Covid-19 to Business and Investments in the EAC and Proposed Recovery Measures to the EAC Economies', 56 per cent of businesses have been affected by cross-border restrictions since the pandemic hit the member states.

About 44 per cent of businesses are still struggling to source raw materials to remain afloat.

Representatives of the regional business body accompanied officials of the EAC Ministry in Kenya and various private sector stakeholders during the border visits this week before making the demand on Thursday.

They also called for mutual recognition of Covid-19 certificates among EAC partner states and for the deployment of more personnel from government agencies to facilitate trade.

The council, whose mandate is to facilitate trade across the border, raised concerns over the huge losses businesses are suffering following the traffic snarl-ups occasioned by delay in testing and releasing of results to truck drivers.

Dr Mathuki noted that various border points are also facing a constant shortages of Covid-19 reagents and testing kits.

In addition, distressed truck drivers awaiting or collecting their Covid-19 results are neither observing social distancing nor wearing protective masks.

In the last three months, it is estimated that Kenya alone has lost USD200 million (Sh20 billion) due to the delays. This is because a truck which was previously making at least four trips in a month can now only manage one because of the delay at the border as traffic stretched about 42 kilometres.

"The snarl-ups are also disrupting flow of goods thus increasing operational costs for traders, causing wastage of volumes of perishable goods and fuelling corruption cases," said Dr Mathuki.

He said closing the testing points at the border and moving them to other areas in the respective counties will help in increasing intra-EAC trade.

Dr Mathuki said that in the past six months, small scale traders have closed their businesses.

Meanwhile, the government has commenced a study among truck drivers and healthcare workers at the border of Kenya and Uganda to establish people who might have been exposed to Covid-19 without their knowledge.

Testing surveillance

The serology testing surveillance is being supported by the Ministry of Health, Busia County government and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri)-Wellcome Trust Research Programme.

Busia County Medical Laboratory Coordinator David Bulimu said the study will assist them to establish the characteristics of the virus and its antibody formation.

"At the moment, we are collecting the samples that will be shipped for testing at specialised antibody testing sites," he said.

"There are some people who may have been exposed to Covid-19 but got cured without ever being tested and so the sero surveillance study would want to establish how many were exposed to the deadly virus," he added.

Speaking in Busia town on Thursday, Mr Bulimu said that at least 700 truck drivers and 350 healthcare workers are being targeted in the activity whose samples will be collected at the Busia and Malaba border points, Busia County Referral Hospital and Alupe and Kocholia sub-county hospitals.

Public News 
Written by:
Rushdie Oudia and Victor Raballa