Truckers protest new COVID-19 rules

SHARE   |   Monday, 18 May 2020   |   By Bakang Tiro & Phillimon Mmeso
Truckers protest new COVID-19 rules

Scores of cargo truck drivers who enter Botswana through Tlokweng borderpost to deliver goods have complained about new Botswana Covid-19 regulations that ties them to do ties before entering the country also under police escorts so that they go straight to delivering.

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The new regulations have been adopted indefinitely this week after a truck driver who entered Botswana tested positive for COVID-19, hence the tightening of screws on cargo trucks. The Patriot on Sunday caught up with some of the drivers who expressed concern about the new process indicating that it compromises their time as well as leading to damage of goods.

One truck driver who said he comes long way from Polokwane City in Limpopo province to deliver vegetables spent two days at the border insisting this poses danger to the goods. “Driving from Limpopo to Johannesburg where I start my journey to Gaborone alone is just so depressing due to the distance. Also waiting at the border for two or so days really costs me. I have to come to Botswana twice a week but now it will be challenging task,” the driver noted.

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Clamp down

Police started escorting truck drivers from the border when they are certified to move into Botswana by health authorities after satisfied by their results but truckers are not amused. The purpose of police escorting the drivers is to ensure that they go straight to gazetted delivery stations so as to avoid taking of unnecessary trips that can expose the public to danger.

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On Wednesday there was nearly chaos in the escort as some truck drivers felt that they are free to move around with police minders as long as they are cleared given go ahead into Gaborone.

The complaints raised by the drivers is that they are used to have regular rests in some areas around Tlokweng such as along Choppies-Engen mall road before going back to South Africa. “The police just expect us to come straight from the border to deliver and then we expected to go back immediately without taking rests as we usually do to reduce fatigue. The new process is not fair because self-quarantine at border as we await clearance wastes time,” said one driver.

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However, Batswana truck drivers despite moaning by their fellow counterparts said they found nothing difficulty with the new exercise despite that it takes little bit longer waiting for results. In an interview, Morulaganyi Diseko said Batswana drivers just like the South Africans are subjected to testing or producing evidence of their results when are arriving from South Africa.

He noted that as truck drivers are vulnerable to contacting the virus as it continues to surge across the region hence he immediately fetches goods from Johannesburg and comes straight to Botswana.

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Director of Health Services Dr Malaki Tshipayagae has issued a directive that all truck drivers entering Botswana to deliver goods are required to produce negative COVID-19 results first. The drivers have been stopped across the country and subjected to a quarantine while awaiting results as an effort to curb potential cross border infections which have surged in East Africa.

Police escort

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The spread of COVID-19 is hitting the economy where it hurts most, the transport of essential goods into the country. Recently World Health Organization (WHO) advised countries to ensure that all cargo trucks coming into the country must be escorted to their destination and ensure that they don’t stop anywhere. Botswana Police are said to have indicated that they don’t have enough resources to escort the trucks especially to their destinations.

“Imagine a truck from Tlokweng border going as far as Maun or Kasane, that will be stretch our resources which are already limited,” hinted a senior police officer.

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Director of Public Health Dr Malaki Tshipayagae confirmed the challenges of escorting the truck drivers but was quick to add that they are in consultation with other stakeholders including the police. “We are discussing the issue on how we can best do it and hopefully we will reach an amicable solution” he said.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of transport and Communications Alicia Mokone has confirmed that escorting the cargo trucks is going to be expensive for government. She reasoned that they might consider tracking of the trucks in collaboration with the truck owners.

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The decision not to allow trucks to stop at undesignated areas has not sit well with some truck drivers who felt that they are being put under strenuous situations. “Imagine driving all the way from Tlokweng border to Francistown without being allowed time to have rest or health breaks along the way. This is totally unfair on us,” complained one truck driver.

Vector for Covid-19

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The decision by Botswana to tighten the grip against the virus came after a truck driver from South Africa tested positive.  The authorities moved swiftly to round up all people who came into contact with the cargo driver or came into contact with the driver's contacts. Barely two days after easing of restrictions of movement within the country to open up the economy, the Coordinator of the Presidential COVID-19 Task Force Kereng Masupu announced on Monday that they have taken a decision to suspend travel in and out of the capital city Gaborone, with immediate effect.

Dr Tshipayagae revealed that all truck drivers will be tested before they go to their destinations. There have been concerns that government is just picking samples from the truck drivers at the borders and letting them to continue associating with the population as they travel to their last destinations.

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The decision to have truck drivers tested at the point of entry and not allowed to stop anywhere comse after it was realized that in most countries doing border testing has shown  high number of cases among drivers moving essential goods. They have been regarded as the major vector for the virus as they normally gather at weighbridges and customs points, socializing pit stops and mingling with sex workers who ply their trade along villages on the highway like A1.

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