reight forwarders in East Africa have applauded the EAC partner states for resolving the truck drivers’ Covid 19 testing impasse at Kenya – Uganda borders. In a statement released yesterday, the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (FEAFFA) led by the president Mr. Fred Seka was delighted with the response to the challenge.
“The regional freight forwarding industry is grateful for the considerations and appreciation of the effect of the impasse on business and the general economy. Sparing time out of your busy schedules to address the industry concerns is a big plus for this very important sector” said Seka.
East Africa Community Secretariat convened a multi-sectoral meeting of Ministers/Cabinet secretaries responsible for EAC Affairs, Transport, and Health on Monday 10th January which agreed to clear the traffic deadlock at the Uganda -Kenya borders. The government of Uganda will provide free covid19 tests for the truck drivers and crew members already at the borders for at least one week, recognize Covid19 test results from accredited/national recognized laboratories uploaded in the RECDTS, allow fully vaccinated drivers a 14-day validity, and directed the Partner States to notify each other in case of any deviations from the agreed protocols relating to measures against Covid19.
The meeting also discussed the adoption of the EACPass, a harmonized system to facilitate cross-border movement, in a bid to end persistent border traffic snarl-ups disrupting intra-EAC trade.
“Harmonization of Covid-19 charges and coordinated waiting time for Covid results is critical to facilitate business continuity and ease the cost of doing business,” said Dr. Peter Mathuki, the EAC Secretary-General.
“The EACPass is directly integrated to all the six (6) Partner States central depository (National Laboratories) and only national accredited laboratories are approved to carry out PCR Covid-19 tests for travelers. This is set to build confidence in all Partner States since certificates are digitally authenticated from all accredited laboratories in the region,” he added.
The EACPass works by consolidating the results of all travelers and passengers undertaking mandatory Covid-19 testing in the designated accredited laboratories in each EAC Partner State. The authorized and accredited testing facilities in each country upload Covid-19 data to their respective Ministry of Health (MOH) repository. Only PCR Negative Covid-19 results for travelers are pushed automatically to the EACPass which is accessible digitally and is verifiable at all ports of entry and exit.
Currently, EAC Partner States have finalized the technical integration of accredited laboratories within the Community to EACPass and digital certificates can be shared across the region to facilitate easy movement of EAC citizens within the region.
“The piloting of EACPass has started in the Republic of Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi while the other Partner States are finalizing the internal processes to start the piloting of the same,” said Dr. Mathuki.
The 21st Meeting of the Sectoral Council of Ministers responsible for Health held on 10th December 2021 approved the EACPass as a regional platform to facilitate movement of all travelers in the region and beyond and also directed the EAC Partner States to facilitate the implementation and use of EACPass as a platform for quick verification of Covid-19 test certificates and vaccination status for travelers.
The meeting came at a time when the Industry stakeholders in East Africa Community (EAC) have asked Partner States to adopt and implement EAC coordinated approach on COVID-19 to eliminate related Non-Tariff Barriers and spur trade.
This was in response to an inter-ministerial meeting held in Uganda last week that allowed the Uganda government to clear all truck drivers and their accompanying staff with negative Covid 19 PCR certificates taken in the last 72 hours.
In a press release this week, the East African Business Council (EABC) requested the use of RECDTS.
“We urge Partner States to embrace the RECDTS to accommodate the emerging COVID-19 trends as it offers minimal disruptions to the private sector, especially the transport and logistics sector,” the statement signed by the EABC Executive Director Mr. John Bosco Kalisa read in part.
According to the Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Associations (FEAFFA), EAC partner states should continue engaging until a revised mutually agreed position is reached in the brotherly spirit of the EAC.
FEAFFA also wants Uganda to consider the adoption of antigen tests for truck drivers as this will reduce the time taken to test and release results, reduce the psychological effect on the drivers who test quite often as well as reduce the cost of testing to levels manageable by governments.
Dr. Henry Mwebesa, Director General in Charge of Health Service issued a list of 66 laboratories spread in the region that must carry out the test. Four labs will be stationed in Burundi, 20 in Kenya, five in South Sudan, Rwanda 10 with Uganda and Tanzania having 22 and five labs respectively. Out of the total labs, 34 are public and 32 are private facilities.
Uganda authorities, on 20th December last year, directed testing of all incoming travelers, including truck drivers. The directive proposed the review of the Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS), which allows Covid 19 testing after 14 days, to a shorter duration of 7 days due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, which has a shorter incubation period.
Since 2020, the region has been operating a Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS), an initiative that was supported by Trademark East Africa (TMEA), to monitor Covid 19 cases across the borders. Ministries of health in EAC share Covid 19 results from various tests centers and the results are acceptable across the borders, easing crossing time.