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Uganda in a dilemma over transit cargo truck drivers

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CHARLES M. MPAGI

By CHARLES M. MPAGI
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Uganda faces a tough choice of balancing between keeping supply chains open for imported goods and fuel for itself and its neighbours, even as more transit cargo drivers test positive for Covid-19.

Uganda’s Covid-19 cases increased by 11 last week on Thursday and all the confirmed cases were of transit cargo truck drivers.

Speaking at an event to receive 45 pick-up trucks donated to the anti-coronavirus efforts last week on Friday, President Yoweri Museveni said truck drivers should employ a system where local drivers pick the trucks at border points and drive it either to its destination or to the next border point. The president added that testing drivers at the point of origin was another option.

“We need to solve this problem of the truck drivers. There is an idea of testing the driver and he waits for the results before he comes into the country,” said President Museveni.

“Truck drivers are going to be our main challenge as we continue to register more positive cases…We still need supplies which we can’t manufacture,” said Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary Diana Atwiine authorities in a tweet on Friday.

The ministry said six drivers from Tanzania who entered the country through the Mutukula border point and five drivers from Kenya had tested positive raising the total number of Covid-19 cases to 74. Among the Kenyan drivers, three entered through Malaba and two through the Busia border point.

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The figure is causing anxiety in the country as truck drivers, who are known to traverse the length and breadth of the country, now account for about 26 per cent of the county’s total infection rate.

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Uganda had initially opted to keep the numbers of the positive tests from neighbouring countries off its tally and deport the patients, but was forced to backtrack, include them and provide treatment locally, in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines, which require that positive cases be treated in the country where they are identified and included in that country’s tally.

Last week on Thursday, Internal Affairs Minister Gen Jeje Odongo told a media briefing that the government was considering a relay system where a driver is stopped at the border, the truck is sanitised and handed over to a local driver to move the cargo to its destination if inbound or to the next border point if transiting.

However, this would require logistics company to engage multiple drivers for the relay system to work, which is a tough ask under the circumstances and one likely to increase the cost of doing business.

President Museveni also proposed that the number of people allowed on a truck be adjusted from two drivers and a turn-boy to only one driver.

He added that he had spoken to Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on the possibility of agreeing on particular stop-points away from trading centres to limit interactions between drivers and the local population. It is not clear what was agreed on.

Senior Presidential press secretary Don Wanyama told The EastAfrican that details of the conversation between the two leaders were not available.

Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Ainebyona said that by last week Thursday over 16,000 people have been tested so far.



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