After the recent confirmed COVID-19 cases being of cargo truck drivers, the Government has stepped up vigilance to nip the challenge in the bud. The sub-committee resolved to bar cargo truck drivers from stopping at all certain hitherto popular points in the country in a number of towns. The truck drivers will have a few designated stop points. During a meeting held on April 24, the sub-committee, agreed that certain stop points should be declared out of bounds for cargo truck drivers and they should only stop at 12 major points.
Under the proposed measures, truck drivers will be barred from stopping at Tororo, Mbale, Lira, Corner Kamdini, Mbiko, Naluwerere, Sanga, Ruti, Migeera, Lyantonde, Namawojolo and Luwero. Speaking to New Vision on Saturday, Uganda works minister Gen. Katumba Wamala said the sub-committee’s resolutions will be tabled before Cabinet today for approval before implementation. Cabinet is expected to consider the measures ahead of President Museveni’s address to the nation tomorrow.
“This is just a proposal. Once Cabinet approves, we shall announce it to the general public,” Katumba Wamala said.
President Museveni on Friday, while handing over vehicles to the health ministry, said he would give an update on the fight against COVID-19 on Tuesday (today). He said cargo truck drivers were now the new front line in the war against the coronavirus.
Uganda has in the recent weeks registered a spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. This is due to long-distance truck drivers from Kenya and Tanzania, who are now posing a challenge to the country’s efforts to flatten its coronavirus curve.
So far, the country has registered 20 positive cases among the drivers. This brings to 75 the number of cases as of Saturday evening. Forty-six of these have so far recovered. It is against this background that the trade and transport sub-committee of the COVID-19 national taskforce met and agreed on measures to be implemented immediately.
The committee also wants each truck to have one driver for the next four weeks, after which, the proposed relay system for drivers will be adopted. However, the transporters who are ready, are urged to start employing the system. For domestic trucks, they proposed a maximum of two people; a driver and owner of the cargo.
The sub-committee also agreed to designate a maximum of three stop points per route for the truck drivers. Those from Kenya, will be required to only stop at Namboole, Lukaya and Ntungamo/Ishaka, while the trucks on the second route from Kenya will stop in Soroti and the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) offices at Corner Kamdini.
Trucks from Tanzania heading to South Sudan will stop in Kampala, at Karuma and Pakwach. Those from Tanzania heading to DR Congo will stop at Namboole, Mubende and Fort Portal. For the last route to DR Congo, trucks will stop at Ishaka and then proceed to the border.
“All cargo, inbound and outbound transit cargo trucks should follow the same journey management plan indicated above,” reads the resolutions.
The sub-committee also agreed that all agencies, including the health ministry work 24 hours at Malaba, Mutukula and Busia to reinforce border patrols and surveillance at all illegal entry points. They also agreed that freight forwarders commit to paying for the testing kits. The modalities for payment will be worked out between the private sector and the health ministry. The sub-committee wants the Government to procure more 5,000 e-seals for the regional cargo trucking system for URA.
Truck drivers will be required to have and use personal protective equipment and sanitisers.
On Saturday, Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said URA had been given seals to monitor truck drivers who should only make stopovers at the designated points, avoid contact with locals and observe all guidelines issued by the Government.
Kenya transporters body views
The Kenya Transporters Association Ltd (KTA) protested the proposed relay driving for cargo transporters, saying it will lead to additional expenses that could cripple the transport industry. The KTA agreed with rest of the proposed measures, including designated stops, same journey plans, no diversion of trucks from designated routes, one driver per truck and use of PPEs. However, the organisation called for review of proposed relay driving. Relay driving, which is yet to be agreed on by the Cabinet, will involve a driver from a neighbouring country handing over the truck to a Ugandan one at the border, after the vehicle has been sanitised.
The Ugandan driver then takes the cargo to the frontier, where a driver from that country takes over, after the vehicle has been sanitised and drives on to the merchandise’s final destination.
In their petition dated April 25, KTA said the proposed system will require new drivers’ recruitment and training, which would drastically increase the cost of transportation to the trucking companies, yet the business has been already affected by reduced cargo volumes and longer transit times. Through their chief operating officer, Mercy Ireri, they argue that transporters would also incur additional expenses in providing accommodation for additional drivers. They argue that the security and safety of the cargo would also be compromised by multiple drivers involved in a single haulage
“The relay driving changeover by drivers would create inefficiencies. Truckers would face challenges in tracing driver’s responsibilities when it comes to trucks misuse, damages and theft of fuel,” Ireri said.
She said it would also pose a challenge in the matter of insurance since any accident or theft would likely be challenged by the insurance companies.
They proposed that drivers undergo mandatory COVID-19 tests at the borders and if one is found negative, they be allowed to proceed with the journey to the destination.
Those found positive, should be put in isolation and the transporter informed so that they make arrangements for another driver to undergo tests and complete the journey.
They said currently the freight drivers are under strict instructions not to carry any passengers, sanitise themselves after handling documents, and to self-quarantine within their trucks in order to avoid interactions in the course of a journey.