Dar es Salaam,
Zambia's closure of the Tunduma-Nakonde border with Tanzania in the fight against Covid-19 will deal a heavy blow to the economies of four countries, stakeholders say.
The border closure will affect Tanzania, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and - partly - Zimbabwe, and stakeholders have called for a swift resolution to ensure these countries are not adversely affected.
The Tunduma-Nakonde border crossing point connects Dar es Salaam with Lusaka (Zambia), Lubumbashi (DRC) and, to some extent, Harare in Zimbabwe.
"The closure means that cargo is stranded at the border, including petroleum products that could easily explode. Urgent measures must be taken to address this," Tanzania Freight Forwarders Association (Taffa) President Edward Urio told The Citizen.
Mr Urio added that goods would also be flooded at the ports as they cannot transport them at the moment.
Data produced at the launching of the convertibility of the Tanzanian shilling and the Zambian kwacha in February this year show that over 70 percent of goods in transit which are imported through Dar es Salaam port are transported across the Tunduma-Nakonde border.
On average, the value of cargo passing through the border annually to destinations in Zambia, DRC and Zimbabwe is estimated at $1.5 billion. But this has now been disrupted following the border closure.
The decision - which became effective on Monday, May 11 - came after Nakonde district in Zambia recorded 76 new Covid-19 cases on May 9, its highest single day increase so far.
Zambian Health Minister Chitalu Chilufya said the border closure would allow for cleaning, disinfection and Covid-19 testing to be conducted in Nakonde, as well as the retraining of immigration staff on how to deal with the entry of persons and goods.
A spot check by The Citizen on Monday revealed that police were patrolling the Zambian side of the border. Shops on the Nakonde side of the border remained closed.
The Nakonde Intercity Bus Station, which links the border town with Zambia's major urban centres, including Lusaka, was not working as there were no travellers.
Police on the Tanzanian side were informing people regarding the dangers of trying to sneak into Zambia amid the border closure.
The Tanzanian government called for calm, saying it was planning to have all cargo truck drivers tested of Covid-19 and issued with a 14-days clearance certificate before they are allowed to transport goods to other states.
Works, Transport and Communications minister Isack Kamwelwe told The Citizen that his ministry was in talks with the Health ministry to ensuring that cargo truck drivers were tested and cleared when they reach the borders.
"It has been revealed that infections at Nakonde are very high and all precautions must be taken as we look at what can be done to avoid adversely affecting the economy," he said.
Chief operations officer of Tanzania Association of Transporters, Mr Hussein Wandwi, said Covid-19 has led to huge challenges that have adversely increased the cost of doing business.
"With the decision by Zambia, cost of doing business is rising. The cost for demurrage for people at [the] shipping line is rising especially as we don't know how long it will take Zambia to reopen the border," he said.
Mr Wandwi urged the government to find a swift solution.