By Keefa Nuwahereza
Heads of State in the East African region have agreed to use digital trackers for cargo lorry drivers as part of measures to help curb the spread of Coronavirus in the region.
The decision comes at a time of increasing concerns in the region over high numbers of long-distance drivers testing positive for COVID-19 at countries’ borders.
“The heads of state noted that information sharing is key during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” read part of the statement.
So far, drivers’ movements have not been restricted in the region since they are considered essential workers as they transport goods such as food and medication across East Africa.
Last month, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni dismissed the possibility of stopping drivers from entering the country.
“We need the cargo. We need the goods. But at the same time we don’t want the disease… So don’t touch the driver, and the driver should not touch you,” he said.
Attending the video conference were leaders of four member countries: Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan.
Conspicuously, their counterparts from Tanzania and Burundi were not present.
Tanzania has been criticised for not taking stricter measures to fight the spread of coronavirus in the country, an allegation that the government denies.
Last week, former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told South Africa’s public broadcaster SABC that regional neighbours could close borders with Tanzania if the country did not impose tougher measures to fight the virus.
On Monday, Zambia closed its border with Tanzania after recording 86 new cases of Coronavirus at the Nakonde border crossing. The health minister said 74 of the people who tested positive were either truck drivers or sex workers.
Meanwhile, truck drivers are being tested at Uganda’s border for COVID-19 as part of coronavirus prevention measures.
This comes after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a loan of $491m (£399) to Uganda, to help the country’s economy cope with the cost of containing the Coronavirus pandemic.
The international lending institution said weakening economic conditions from the impact of COVID-19 had put “significant pressures on revenue collection and expenditure” by the government.
The Washington-based lender said the money will help to finance healthcare and measures to stabilise the economy, as well as catalyse additional financing from the international community.
The IMF recognises the Ugandan economy is being severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and how key sectors like tourism, transport, construction, manufacturing and agriculture are at risk.
Money sent home as remittances, by Ugandans working abroad, has declined and the global economic downturn has hit foreign direct investments.
The IMF also said the pandemic had “exacerbated the challenges posed by heavy rains” this year and the threat from swarms of locusts.
The Bank of Uganda has since reduced interest rates to cut the cost of borrowing for businesses, while the government in Kampala has enhanced measures to support the companies.
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