Kenya has closed its borders with Somalia and Tanzania as the country strives to stem further spread of the coronavirus.
In a televised address to the nation, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he was imposing more measures after it emerged that some of the cases had crossed the border from Tanzania and Somalia.
“If we do not take additional precautionary measures and get even more serious in implementing existing guidelines, the number of people who will get sick and die is going to rise sharply,” said President Kenyatta.
The decree, effective 16th June 2020 midnight, does not affect cargo vehicles.
The move, unprecedented in the history of the East African Community’s 20-year existence, came as Kenya said it had blocked 78 truck drivers from Tanzania from entering the country.
The decision to block infected Tanzanian truck drivers came as member states in the region struggled to have a common policy on limiting the spread of Covid-19, while allowing free movement of goods.
Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan belong to EAC.
However, during a virtual meeting convened Tuesday by EAC Chairman and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, only Nairobi, Juba and Kampala participated.
Tanzania later claimed the meeting was for the Northern Corridor, a reference to countries that mainly import goods through Kenya’s Port of Mombasa.
Shutting the border could effectively strengthen those corridor divisions even though Kenya argued it was simply protecting its people.
“I know that our economy has taken a big hit, and the sectors that are linked to foreign trade, travel and production are under intense stress…even though the measures we are putting in place are inconvenient to all of us, the far worse outcome is for this pandemic to grow out of control,” added President Kenyatta.
Somalia, too, has faced rising cases, blowing from 26 only in mid-April to 1284 by mid June. Mogadishu has not given the figures on the number of those tested.
This is happening at a time when new cases are prevalent with truck drivers.
Kenyan truck drivers who arrived in Uganda have tested positive for coronavirus. According to Uganda’s Health Ministry, three of them arrived via Malaba while two entered the country through Busia.
“We tested a total of 1,331 samples today at Uganda Virus Research Institute. Of these, 1,020 samples are from truck drivers while all 311 samples from the community and individuals in quarantine tested negative for COVID-19,” the Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng said.
“None of the cases registered today had signs and symptoms consistent with COVID-19,” she added.
The Kenyan truck drivers are part of the 11 new cases announced in Uganda on Thursday, April 23.
The other six cases are Tanzanian truck drivers who arrived via the Mutukula border post.
Minister of Internal Affairs Gen. Odongo Jeje expressed concern over truck drivers entering Uganda.
“There is growing concern about the long-distance truck drivers entering the country. The concern is because quite a number of these truck drivers have tested positive,” he said during a Press briefing on Thursday.
He said the national taskforce is considering deployment of rapid testing kits at the entry point so that a driver knows his status before he leaves the border.
Gen. Jeje however lamented that though the testing is quick and it only takes 10 minutes to get results, the test kits are very expensive.
Each test kit costs $65 (Ksh.6,986) yet on average, 1000 vehicles enter Uganda through the border,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ugandan women have been urged to keep away from long-distance cargo truck drivers.
“I appeal to all of you who live along the roads followed by the truck drivers including the women who interact with them for different purposes to stay away from these truck drivers. During this period of lockdown, please do not accept visitors into your homes, not even neighbors, ensure adequate physical distancing with people who do not live with you every day,” she while giving a comprehensive update on COVID-19 response.
Events changed drastically even after Kenya set health-check guidelines for drivers and crew of cross-border trucks ferrying goods in the region in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus infections.
The guidelines were issued to ease congestion at the Namanga and Busia crossing points, which had been caused by border closures since Wednesday last week.
Kenya is a key entry point for imports for landlocked neighbours including Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
All truck drivers were to have their temperature taken at designated weighbridges and border points using thermo guns provided by the Ministry of Health.
“Each truck occupant must have their temperature health forms until they exit Kenya unless they are Kenyan residents. Only trucks entering Kenya at border points will be subjected to temperature testing requirements,” said Adan Mohamed, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for East African Community, in a statement signed in conjunction with the private sector
“Should any truck occupants show symptoms, they will be quarantined for 14 days under the supervision of the Ministry of Health.”
EAC partner states had also announced strict border restrictions, further causing delays and backlogs at border points.
A multi-agency protocol comprising the Ministry of East African Community, Ministry of Health, Kenya Revenue Authority, the National Police Service and Immigration, met earlier to set the new guidelines.
The team designated the KRA commissioner of Customs, Kelvin Lewis Safari, as the overall team leader at border points. His task will be to ensure 24-hour operation at the border points.
Police presence was to be required at various weighbridges to oversee checking.
The team did also call on Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Interior Fred Matiang’i,to designate immigration officials as exempt from provisions of the dusk-to-dawn curfew to enable them work 24 hours along with Customs and port health officials.
The police were directed to allow and facilitate truck drivers to operate 24-hours.
Trucks and cargo transport have been listed as essential services in the curfew notice, and therefore permitted to be cleared to travel at night.
In order to allow smooth and faster clearance of trucks, the team also recommended hiring of more staff at the border points.
to affirm the ban and closure of borders, the government of Tanzania announced that all its borders with Kenya to remain closed without any exception as a measure aimed at taming the virus from spreading widely.