East Africa Community Secretariat is set to convene a multi-sectoral meeting today to consider 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. The meeting will include Ministers responsible for EAC Affairs, Transport, and Health.
“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.
This happens in the background of an ongoing trade impasse at the Kenya-Uganda border points of Busia and Malaba that has disrupted cross-border trade. The two borders on the Northern Corridor also serve Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and South Sudan.
Dr. Mathuki emphasized the need for Partner States to adopt the EACPass, a system that integrates all EAC Partner States negative test results for Covid-19 and those vaccinated, easing turnaround time at border points.
“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 comes 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 interministerial meeting held in Uganda this 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 Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking Systems (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), Uganda should engage the EAC to fast-track onboarding other Partner States in the review of the RECTDS to accommodate the changes necessitated by the emergence of the omicron variant. This will promote regional harmony and the spirit of regional integration.
FEAFFA also wants Uganda to consider retaining the validity period for the truck drivers’ test results beyond 72 hours to 14 days as a trade facilitation measure and also ensure that a driver is tested once every route.
“You may wish to know that majority of the truck drivers to Uganda are from Mombasa port where they are tested prior to loading cargo. The Freight forwarding industry appreciates the threat presented by the omicron variant,” Fred Seka, FEAFFA President said.
The Uganda government should also consider supporting private sector-led initiatives aimed at enhancing reliability and predictability in the transport and logistics sector such as the Journey Management System and Self -Regulation. These, according to Seka, will ease government collaboration with the sector while guaranteeing professional logistics services to the business community.
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.