Malawi: Coronavirus Alert - Traffic Officers Not Allowed to Touch Driver or Vehicle Documents

29 March 2020

The first thing that Malawian traffic law enforcement officers do when they flag down a vehicle to stop at impromptu check points is to ask the driver for their licence and to check on the windscreen if vehicle and any other documents are valid.

But following the directives issued by Ministry of Transport and Public Works as precautionary measures against the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19), the traffic law enforcement officers have been ordered not to touch the driver or vehicle documents as required by law except where it is very necessary.

A statement from Minister Ralph Jooma, says this is in line with the declaration of Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) by World Health Organization (WHO), and in line with the declaration of a National State of Disaster by President Peter Mutharika.

The precautionary measures are for the fact that all road transport services, especially minibus operators, shall be inspected if they are adhering to the requirement that they should reduce their seating capacity to 60%.

Minibus Owners Association of Malawi (MOAM) has agreed to reduce passengers capacity to two people per seat in the quest to protect citizens from the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But in most cases, minibus drivers flout the already existing directive that asks they only allowed them to have three passengers per row.

The minibus drivers flout this legal traffic directive when they know the traffic law enforcement officers have left the impromptu check points.

Despite complaints, minibus drivers force passengers to sit four on a row and passengers comply because the minibuses operate on first-served line bases.

In the directives by the Ministry of Transport, the traffic law enforcement officers will only be checking if the drivers have complied to the seating capacity of 2 on a row.

MOAM national chairperson Felix Mbonekera said on Friday that effective 1st April 2020, all minibuses will be carrying two passengers per seat.

"Together with Road Traffic Directorate, we have instituted a task force which will be doing spot checks on the roads to ensure that all the minibuses which have sealed windows at the back should be open and on sitting capacity we have agreed to minimize only for this period of COVID-19.

"Each minibus should carry two people per seat, which means that we have removed one passenger per seat.

"From there, some officials from MOAM and the traffic police will help us in enforcing the recommendations," he said.

Mbonekera indicated that strict measures have been put in place to make sure that the new recommendations are fully followed by drivers, failing which the drivers risk losing their licenses and the vehicle road permit.

The Ministry also disallows any standing passengers in long distance big buses, which should also have slide opening windows and that those without should have a functional ventilation system.

All public service vehicles are required to disinfect before commencement of every trip; all passengers must wash hands before entering a bus or minibus and that sanitizer should be provided to all passengers on board.

The bus crew is required to put on protective face masks; that passengers are not allowed to carry animals on any public service vehicles; all goods vehicles are not allowed to carry passengers and all tricycles should carry 1 passenger only.

All passengers in private vehicles should sit next to windows with no passenger sitting in the middle and that traffic law enforcement officers, local council representatives, representatives of Passenger Welfare Association and members of the respective public transport associations will be carrying out joint exercises to inspect compliance.

Among several has suspended all cross-border passenger travel is effective April 1st, 2020

All international flights are suspended also effective April 1 except for aircraft carrying health personnel, essential health equipment and emergency relief items and those carrying returning residents or general cargo, which will be handled on a case by case basis.

"Meanwhile the Department of Road Traffic and Safety Services is developing measures to be followed by bicycle and motorcycle taxis," says the Minister's statement,

For the rail transport service, the Central East Africa Railways (CEAR) has been directed to reduce the carrying capacity of each passenger coach from 90 to 40 for Economy Class and from 54 to 28 for Business Class.

CEAR is also required to carry out the same measures directed for road transport services and that Government inspectors have been deployed to enforce the implementation of these measures.

"CEAR has deployed social monitors at every train station to ensure compliance with sanitation and social distance guidelines."

Water transport has been asked to reduce their carrying capacity by 50 percent for all passenger vessels and that large vessels should make provision for a cabin to be used for isolation of people showing general symptoms of COVID-19.

Movement of passengers within ships is restricted and social visits to ports and vessels have been suspended forthwith.

The Department of Marine Services launched sensitization programmes at all major ports from Friday March 27 and that ship surveyors have been deployed to enforce the implementation of these measures.

Those with common flu and showing general symptoms of COVID-19 should not be allowed to use any public transport service; citizens are encouraged to only take essential travel and where possible to walk to various destinations wherever practical.

"The Ministry of Transport and Public Works will continue to monitor and review the situation in consultation with the Ministry of Health for the next 30 days," says the statement.

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