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County Wants Cross BorderTruck Drivers Quarantined

Taita-Taveta County has asked the national government to review the East African Community (EAC) Covid-19 protocol on cross-border movement for essential goods to introduce mandatory rule for truckers crossing the border to be quarantined for 14-days at the border before being allowed into the country.
This, the county asserts, will prevent truck drivers from importing or exporting the Coronavirus from one country to another.
County Executive Committee Member for health Mr. John Mwakima said the county was growing increasingly apprehensive over the high number of truckers going through the Kenya-Tanzania border at Taveta without being subjected to critical Covid-19 tests.
Currently, there is no robust testing of Coronavirus at border posts except basic checks including temperature levels.
Data by county health monitoring the traffic along the Voi-Taveta-Holili highway shows an average of 400 trucks are crossing the border after passing through the county.
Mr. Mwakima said the border remained extremely vulnerable and asked the government to introduce mandatory quarantine centres at the border posts.
“We remain at risk because the truck drivers are allowed to proceed after being cleared at the border. There is need to hold them there for 14-days before letting them continue with their trips,” said the county official.
The EAC governments have allowed trucks carrying goods like food, fuel, medical supplies and other commodities to move freely despite travel restrictions to avoid disruptions of supply lines for essential goods.
The county’s alarm was triggered by an incident where a lone truck driver a fortnight ago developed Covid-19 related symptoms at Miasenyi area in Voi along the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway.
The trucker had been cleared at the border and is said to have made some stops along the way to buy some water and food from shopping centres along the highway.
Mr. Mwakima said the driver was later rushed to a quarantine centre in Mwatate where he was placed in isolation.
Though his samples later tested negative, the health officials say they might not be so lucky in future.
“We are happy he tested negative. However, we need to seal all areas of weakness that can expose us to this disease,” he said.
A week ago, Ministry of Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr. Rashid Amani during a meeting with border officials at Taveta One Stop Border Post (OSBP) said the government was intensifying the battle against Covid-19 by deploying testing kits to all the border posts.
Currently, the drivers are supposed to self-quarantine for 14-days after arriving at their destination before embarking on another trip. Despite such requirements, there are fears truckers remain a high risk group. Often, long-distance truck drivers make several stops along their routes to buy food, drinks and take much-needed rest.
In the wake of Covid-19 outbreak, such stops increase the risks of spreading the coronavirus should the driver be infected.
There are reports that security measures including providing escort for trucks crossing the border are in place. However, enforcement is a challenge due to scarce resources and logistical nightmare of accompanying trucks to their destinations.
“Trucks leave without escorts because it’s near impossible to go with every truck that passes here. The truckers only promise not to interact and make unnecessary stops along the way. Border officials take their word,” explained a source within the police.
The Border Management Committee in Taveta cited lack of escorts for trucks as a major challenge to Mr. Hussein Dado, CAS Ministry of Interior, during a recent visit at the border.
On Friday, Uganda reported that amongst the eleven more confirmed cases of Covid-19 were five Kenyan truck drivers. Such reports reinforce the need to strengthen the capacity of officials at the border to enhance vigilance to avoid coronavirus coming through the border.
Currently, the county has not reported a single case of Covid-19.
The county Commissioner Rhoda Onyancha said surveillance and patrols had been intensified especially in the border villages to thwart illegal crossings. The government has activated the Nyumba Kumi security networks and community policing groups to man the porous border routes and report any cases for action.
The county health team reported that hundreds of medics have been trained on how to handle Covid-19 cases even as four isolation centers were set up in all the sub-counties.
Mr. Mwakima said that to date, 102,000 people using the Nairobi-Mombasa Highway had been screened for Coronavirus at the three high-way screening stations established to take temperatures for the highway users. Out of those, 80 cases of persons with high temperatures were flagged for further tests.
“Our efforts are complementing what is happening elsewhere. We are not relenting,” he said.
Other interventions include training of 1,500 community health volunteers who are on a door-to-door campaign to evaluate compliance with health regulations and educate the community on how to keep safe from coronavirus.
By Wagema Mwangi

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