Uganda’s coronavirus cases have risen to 74 confirmed cases after 11 more truck drivers tested positive for the virus on Thursday.
Of the 11 confirmed cases, 6 are Tanzanian truck drivers who arrived from Tanzania via Mutukula border post while 5 were from Kenya (3 entered from Malaba while 2 entered from Busia border post).
The spike in Uganda’s cases matches the spike witnessed across African countries on Thursday where an unprecedented high number of new cases were recorded on the continent. South Africa registered 318 new cases, Egypt 232, Cameroon 171, Guinea 101, Morocco 91, Somalia 42, Senegal 37, Sudan 22, DR Congo 18, Kenya 17, Mali 16, and Cape Verde 9. However, there was no significant rise in the number of deaths across the continent.
All Uganda's latest 19 of the 20 cases have been registered from truck drivers coming from either Kenya or Tanzania. The issue of truck drivers importing coronavirus into the country puts Uganda in a classic catch-22 situation; focus on the health or focus on the economy.
Whereas Uganda has relatively managed to contain the spread of the virus, long-distance drivers from the neighbouring East African countries are now posing a new challenge.
Speaking at the Uganda Media Centre, Gen Jeje Odongo, Internal Affairs minister, said the government is considering a number of options to ensure those truck drivers who come into Uganda don’t transmit the virus into the community.
“While we are sacrificing to keep the spread of COVID-19 minimal, our efforts are undermined by imported cases. Government has noted these concerns and the national task force is now studying possible remedial actions,” Odongo said.
Uganda started testing truck drivers about two weeks ago and these, UN officials, air cargo crew and emergency service providers are the only people exempted to enter Uganda after the closure of all land, water and air entry points.
While addressing the country last week, President Museveni said truck drivers who have been tested for coronavirus should be left to proceed with their journeys and only traced if they have test positive.
Odongo said, with truck drivers fast becoming the coronavirus importers, government has to rethink what new actions they should take. He pointed out the deployment of rapid testing kits so that results are obtained before the driver leaves the border. However, he was quick to add that this might be an impossible option because of the cost implications. Each test kit is said to cost $65 according to minister of Health Jane Ruth Aceng.
The other option government is considering, Odongo said, is to adopt a system of relay driving where a driver from a neighbouring country like Kenya brings the vehicle up to the border like Busia or Malaba. Here, the vehicle is sanitized then handed over to a Ugandan driver who will take it to its final destination if it is in Uganda.
However, if the vehicle is just transiting through Uganda, then the Ugandan driver will similarly handover to the driver of the country to which the cargo is destined. However for this to work, Odongo added, it must be agreed upon by the East African Community member states.
The minister added that as they await these discussions, the government of Uganda has designated specific areas where these truck drivers will be resting away from their usual places.