East Africa: Cost of Covid-19 Test a Hindrance to Free Movement in EAC

The cost of Covid-19 testing is now becoming a hindrance to free movement of people and goods within the East African Community.

EAC and the private sector are concerned that the Covid-19 related Non-Tariff Barriers (NTBs) continue to hinder cross-border trade due to different measures on Covid-19 in the region. Tests are priced differently in each EAC partner state, while containment measures vary.

It costs an average of $100 to carry out Covid-19 test for visitors to the six EAC states. For instance; Tanzania and Burundi charge a standard $100 for both nationals and foreigners while the other partners' charges vary.

Harmonisation calls

In Rwanda, it is $50 for the test and $10 for specific logistics to the airport.

Rwanda Biomedical Centre requires all travellers to wait for the results in a designated transit hotel within 48 hours.

Kenya has expressed concerns that fresh NTBs could affect the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) if measures are not put in place.

"We are interested and anxious in respect to the AfCFTA. Harmonisation of Covid-19 tests to facilitate free movement of people and goods is a major priority this year," said Dr Kevit Desai, Principal Secretary, Ministry of the EAC and Regional Development.

Yes, Covid-19 tests might look affordable, but different testing regimes and varied waiting time requirements have made it difficult for East Africans to move and trade freely.

The lack of harmonisation of Covid-19 testing rates in accredited laboratories and uncoordinated waiting time for results is disrupting cross-border trade.

"We were at the Malaba border recently and Uganda had introduced $50 tests for truck drivers, causing huge traffic snarl-ups on the Kenyan side. We hope to have it reviewed," said Dr Desai.

Cost of business

Covid-19-related NTBs hinder cross-border trade due to different measures on the pandemic in the region.

And now the East African Business Council (EABC) is urging for lowering and harmonisation of Covid-19 related charges in the East African Community, in a bid to ease the cost of doing business and boost intra-EAC trade.

"The EAC Secretariat should fast track co-ordination and harmonisation of measures on Covid-19 for economic resilience and growth of the bloc," said Dr Peter Mathuki, the chief executive officer of the EABC.

"AfCFTA prioritises addressing challenges in trade policy, productive capacity, hard and soft infrastructure, trade information and market integration which are critical for doing business in the continent," Dr Mathuki explained.

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