Uganda: Truck Drivers Continue to Lead COVID-19 Cases

Despite a number of measures put in place to manage the threat of foreign cargo drivers frustrating the fight against coronavirus, Uganda continues to register Covid-19 cases mainly involving truck drivers from neighbouring countries.

In the past three weeks, Uganda's coronavirus cases jumped from 55 to 98 as a result of truck drivers.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health confirmed eight new cases, six of them truck drivers from neighbouring countries.

Two of the cases were confirmed from the rapid assessment survey conducted in the communities by the Ministry of Health. One of the two cases is a 48-year-old Ugandan female police officer attached to Mutukula Border Police post in Kyotera District.

She becomes the second police officer to test positive to the virus after another in Masindi barracks last week.

The Masaka Regional Referral Hospital director, Dr Nathan Onyachi, said the number of Covid-19 patients at the regional treatment centre stands at five.

Logistical problem?

The infected police officer from Kyotera is said to have been commuting daily between her workplace in Mutukula and her residence in Masaka Town.

"She could have contracted the virus from her usual contact with truck drivers that have been offering her lifts from her workplace to Masaka where she resides," Dr Onyachi added.

He said they would trace her family to quarantine them for 14 days with regular tests.

Mr Mark Jjuuko, the officer-in-charge of the coronavirus treatment centre at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital, yesterday said the first three patients were in stable condition.

"We have taken samples from the first patient (Burundian refugee) to conduct a second test to ascertain his condition after treating all the symptoms he had at the time he was admitted at the centre," he said.

Mr Jjuuko said the other patients did not present symptoms but are on treatment.

The Masaka Regional police commander, Mr Enoch Abaine, said they have reinforced the region with more security personnel since the area also handles the porous border points.

Ms Polly Namaye, the deputy police spokesperson, said the officer's family members, as well as her colleagues, have been put in quarantine for 14 days.

In total, 20 people have been quarantined.

Recently, 104 police officers and their families were quarantined after a police officer at Masindi Police Station tested positive to coronavirus.

A total of 37 truck drivers -- 18 Kenyans, 14 Tanzanians, one Burundian, one Rwandan and four Ugandans -- have tested positive for Covid-19 in Uganda.

By Tuesday, 16 cases had been admitted in various hospitals, but were reportedly in stable condition.

Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the senior public relations officer at the Ministry of Health, said: "We have not stopped truck drivers from coming, [but] we ensure we test them and establish that they are not interacting with any member of our population."

Following the increased Covid-19 cases among truck drivers, the trade and transport national taskforce sub-committee resolved that drivers park in only gazetted places where they can be tracked while in transit in case their results, from samples taken at the border of entry, return positive.

However, Prof Francis Omaswa, the executive director of African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation, said truck drivers should be tested before they leave the country of origin.

How drivers are tracked

Mr Vincent Seruma, the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), the assistant commissioner for public affairs, said truck drivers are tracked using the electronic cargo tracking system under the East African regional electronic cargo tracking system programme.

According to Mr Seruma, a device called an E-seal is tagged on the container, which acts as an electronic seal that works with the GPS system and thus able to send signals to the central command centre in all East African countries.

"The system works in such a way that all the transit routes where trucks are supposed to pass are gazetted and are mapped. So all trucks in transit carrying goods destined to other countries must pass through a gazetted route from the point of departure, which is the starting point either in Mombasa, Malaba or Dar es Salaam," Mr Seruma said yesterday.

He said once the seal is mounted on the truck and activated, it becomes visible from the central command centre and the seal sends an alert in regard to the truck's movements, including speed, stopover and deviation from the gazetted route or stopping for more than the allowed time.

"In the event that someone tampers with the seal or deactivates it, the signal is sent even when it gets out of the network areas and as soon as it gets in the network area, the history of its movement is also sent," Mr Seruma further explained.

When the Ministry of Health contacts URA about a confirmed case, the field rapid response teams interrogate the system and call the truck driver and ask him not to proceed.

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