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Truck drivers Covid-19 testing is anti-trade – EAC secretariat

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The East African Community (EAC) Secretariat has faulted regional governments for failing to honour their own commitments on the management of COVID-19, as protests by truck drivers from Kenya into Uganda persists.

One such commitment is the mutual recognition of the COVID-19 test results by the countries, provided the test is done from within a member country by an accredited laboratory. However, some of the partner states, including Uganda, are reverting to their national policies in the wake of a sharp rise in new infections.

The truck drivers started parking their vehicles at the border over the weekend, protesting the directive by Uganda to pay 30 US Dollars for a test. The Ugandan government issued a directive in December, that all incoming travellers, including truck drivers, be tested at the point of entry.

On January 1, the truck drivers from Kenya, who are mainly Kenyan, opposed the directive, especially the test fee of 100,000 Shillings every time they drive across the border, even when the fee was reduced from an initial 110,000. Apart from the cost of the test, the drivers say that the process has sharply increased the time it takes them to clear border procedures, making business more expensive.

“Why should we pay 3,600 Shillings for a COVID-19 test to the Ugandan government, yet in Kenya we are tested for free? They must scrap the entire fee before we resume,” says the Kenya Long Distance Truck Drivers and Allied Workers Union. Kenneth Ayebare, the head of the Uganda Kenya Consolidators Association says that they had a meeting and there is a memo that the ministry released, but so far there is no solution, yet the Kenyans insist that they cannot be tested twice.

Talks aimed at resolving the impasse, between the leaders of the truck drivers and the Ugandan health and border authorities on Thursday have had no result, according to the drivers. On the basis of this that the EAC and the East African Business Council now urge the EAC Partner States to adopt and implement the EAC co-ordinated approach on COVID-19 to eliminate what they call the COVID-19 Non-Tariff Barriers, so as to spur trade.

“The newly introduced COVID-19 mandatory testing of truck drivers entering or transiting through Uganda hampered the smooth flow of cargo across the region. To pay USD. 30 COVID-19 test each time they cross into Uganda increases the cost of doing business and resulting in traffic pile up at the border,” says the EABC Chief Executive, John Bosco Kaliisa.

The Council also urges Partner States to embrace the Regional Electronic Cargo Driver Tracking System to accommodate the emerging COVID-19 trends with minimal disruptions to the private sector, especially the transport and logistics sector. But Kaliisa says that a quick intervention, they are engaging the EAC via the Technical Working Group and respective inter-ministerial teams to adopt and implement a regional coordinated approach on COVID-19 measures and procedures. He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, the trucks have continued to pile up, with Ayebare saying the trucks have now formed a 72 kilometre stretch from the Malaba border, with a similar situation reported at Busia border town. In a separate development, the EAC Secretary General, Peter Mathuki urges the Partner States to fast-track the adoption of the harmonized system to facilitate cross-border movement, in a bid to end persistent border traffic snarl-ups disrupting intra-EAC trade.

“As the region strives to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, constant trade impasses at EAC border points were reducing the gains made in integrating the region. Partner States need to prioritise the adoption of a regional coordinated approach in handling the pandemic,” Mathuki says.

Dr Mathuki, in a statement, emphasises the need for Partner States to adopt the EAC Pass, a system that integrates all EAC Partner States negative test results for COVID-19 and those vaccinated, easing turnaround time at border points.“Harmonization of COVID-19 charges and coordinated waiting time for COVID-19results is critical to facilitate business continuity and ease the cost of doing business,” he says.

In December, the ‘EAC Pass’, a mobile phone-based app that stores and transmits test results, was adopted by the partner states so that at each entry point, the traveller did not have to test again or present certificates.

The EACPass is directly integrated into all the six Partner States central depository (National Laboratories) and only national accredited laboratories are approved to carry out PCR Covid-19 tests for travellers. This should build confidence in all Partner States since certificates are digitally authenticated from all accredited laboratories in the region.

The EACPass works by consolidating the results of all travellers and passengers undertaking mandatory Covid-19 testing in the designated accredited laboratories in each EAC Partner State. The facilities in each country then upload COVID-19 data to their respective Ministry of Health (MOH) repository.

Only PCR Negative COVID-19 results for travellers have been pushed automatically to the EAC Pass which is accessible digitally and is verifiable at all ports of entry and exit. Currently, EAC Partner States have finalized the technical integration of accredited laboratories within the Community to EACPass and digital certificates can be shared across the region to facilitate easy movement of EAC citizens within the region.

The piloting of the system is ongoing in different countries.

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