GABORONE - The outbreak of COVID-19 has affected economies globally, prompting countries to impose measures which have restricted movement of goods, services and people across borders in efforts to contain the spread of the pandemic.
When COVID-19 broke out, most border posts were closed for the general public and only allowed the movement of essential goods such as medical supplies. Truck drivers have played a crucial role of delivering goods to various destinations.
The introduction of these measures has helped greatly to curb the spread of COVID-19.
In interviews at Tlokweng border post between Botswana and South Africa recently, truck drivers said they were impressed with the overall services at the borders, even though each country had its own regulations. They, however, noted a few hiccups to do with the waiting period to get the COVID-19 tests results, quarantine time and finally being cleared.
A truck driver from Khoemacau mine in Botswana said even though the borders were not exactly the same, he was happy with service delivery.
“The system itself is okay, and so are the officers who assist us. I don’t have any problems. The link between Botswana and South Africa is very fast except only when the network is down,” he said, adding that chaos only erupted after drivers had been tested and awaited the results as there was no proper control to manage the movement of truck drivers. He said there was a probability that those who were negative may interact unknowingly with those who were positive as they wouldn’t know each other’s statuses.
He said this should be noted by the relevant officials and precautionary measures should be taken to ensure that truckers’ health is not compromised, adding that in most instances they loiter around the border posts areas without accommodation.
Another truck driver said ever since the outbreak of COVID-19, business has been greatly affected as they have to wait to get the results before they can proceed with the journey. Prior to COVID-19, they used to make profits which was no longer the case, as they have to spend days at the borders.
He suggested that countries consider issuing them COVID-19 certificates which would last for two weeks as they were frequent travelers, other than the three days they were given.
“Since the introduction of tests at the border, I have done more than 37 tests for COVID-19 and have always had negative results. It is strenuous for us. Why can’t we use the same tests results for the next two weeks if one is negative?”
However, the driver said they no longer had to undergo 14 days of quarantine as was the case earlier in the year. The results were usually available after three days, which is highly commendable, he said.
Comparing earlier this year when most countries closed their border posts and only allowed for essential services, and now when some countries are gradually opening their borders, another truck driver said there used to be long queues which eventually led to cargo delays, thus affecting cross border trade. He said there was an improvement in turnaround time to conduct COVID-19 tests and the clearance of goods.
He also said when COVID-19 broke out, there was a lot of stigma of truck drivers and people who had tested positive, which made them feel they were not welcome in society. People have since changed their perception towards truck drivers.
“When most cases of COVID-19 tests were detected at the border posts, most people viewed us as the transmitters of the coronavirus and this made us struggle to fit in society due to the stigma attached to this virus”, he said.
Most truck drivers said COVID-19 should be a wakeup call to officials in each country to employ proper measures of dealing with pandemics in future without compromising trade between countries, and come up with comprehensive policies that would ensure speedy service delivery at the border posts.
They were of the view that even though comprehensive guidelines and protocols have already been developed by international organisations such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), East African Community (EAC) and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a World Health Organisation-co-ordinated and harmonised approach is required to tackle the pandemic.
SADC, EAC and COMESA Member States came up with a holistic approach to control the movement of essential goods and personnel at the borders by introducing measures to minimise the spread of COVID-19.
The Tripartite Region Member States have adopted the harmonised Tripartite Guidelines on Trade and Transport Facilitation Guidelines for Safe, Efficient and Cost-Effective Movement of Goods and Services during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The guidelines are aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19 while facilitating trade and movement of goods and services across the tripartite area during the pandemic. The guidelines have been adopted as minimum uniform regulations, procedures and standards to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and minimise disruptions in the supply chain and to facilitate movement of goods and services across the region.
The specific objectives of the guidelines are tocomplement regional and national measures against the COVID-19 pandemic aimed at protecting citizens against the pandemic by limiting its spread through transport and mobility across borders. They are aimed at safeguarding the existing trading arrangements in order to minimise the disruption to cross-border trade in goods and services, while striking a balance between public health on one hand and the need to sustain national economies, livelihoods of citizens and food security.
The guidelines seek to ensure smooth and uninterrupted movement of goods and services during the COVID-19 pandemic by balancing, aligning, harmonising and coordinating COVID-19 response measures with the requirements for trade and transport facilitation. It is envisaged that the guidelines will facilitate and support tripartite Member States in implementing the policies and measures to combat COVID-19 as recommended by WHO, World Customs Organisation (WCO), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Maritime Organisation (IMO) and African Centre for Disease Control.
The guidelines are complemented by the Tripartite Transport and Transit Facilitation Programme (TTTFP), which is funded to the tune of Euro 21 million by the European Union under a SADC-EU partnership. The programme has been amended to include a corridor trip monitoring system that will allow for tracking of vehicles and drivers, as well as allow for sharing of information on their health status across the borders, including COVID-19 related information.
The TTTFP addresses these challenges through the implementation of harmonised road transport policies, laws, regulations, systems and standards that affect drivers, loads, vehicles and road infrastructure.
The programme has seen increased efficiency of the transport corridors. The objectives of the TTTFP are to develop and implement harmonised road transport policies, laws, regulations and standards for efficient cross border road transport, transit and logistics services, systems and procedures with a view to reducing transport costs across the mainland countries of the SADC, COMESA and EAC region and facilitate trade.