Transporters operating on the North South Corridor (NSC) in and out of Zambia are still hopeful that tomorrow’s Covid-19 restriction measure implemented by the Ministry of Health (MoH) in Lusaka will not go ahead.
According to the decision, all truck drivers will have to carry certificates showing that they have been tested for the virus and that they’re not infected.
Should they arrive at any of the landlocked country’s borders without a verified certificate proving their Covid status, they will be refused entry and will have to undergo testing there and then, a procedure that comes with a waiting period of three days before results are returned.
But hopes that tomorrow’s measure will somehow miraculously not come to pass are fading fast amid a rising chorus of questions, criticism and cynicism as to the real motivation behind the restriction.
Responding to a logistics operator based at South Africa’s Beitbridge border with Zimbabwe, Mike Fitzmaurice, chief executive of the Federation of East and Southern African Road Transport Associations (Fesarta), said: “There is no change. MoH is not backing down. Drivers must be in possession of a valid negative certificate on arrival at the Zambian border or be tested at the border.”
The logistics operator has since been approached by a transporter asking whether an actual physical testing certificate is necessary.
“Please check what is acceptable as a ‘certificate,’” the enquiry reads. “Most notifications are via SMS to drivers’ phones. Is this sufficient?”
Transporters though, many of whom have faced the brunt of years of corrupt bureaucracy on the notoriously congested and criminally exploited NSC, are none the wiser about the new measure’s minutiae.
For starters, when the announcement was made it was done in a manner that many thought bogus, printed in a way that seemed unofficial, apart from a barely discernible stamp in one corner.
The language, printed here verbatim (errors included), also suggested that it could all be a mistake: “From Wednesday next week the 2nd of September 2020, all truck drivers are mandeted to come with a negative (health certificate) showing that they were tested for Covid-10 from their countries of origin of departure, and results are negative. Failure to which anyone not coming with that (health certificate), will not be allowed entry into Zambia.”
The aforementioned logistics operator also confirmed transporters’ biggest fear, that no one seems to know exactly how the restriction will technically be implemented.
“For starters, you cannot be tested in South Africa unless you are showing symptoms. If you want to be tested voluntarily it costs you an arm and a leg, and laboratories like Ampath don’t issue you with a certificate, they send you an SMS.
“Yet nobody knows whether that will be acceptable because no one has said anything. It’s just another case of public officials acting without proper or prior engagement with private sector interests.”
She added that abnormal load transporters in particular would be hard hit as they didn’t complete an NSC trip going north into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and coming back in under 14 days – the period for which “Covid-clear certificates” will be recognised by Zambian authorities.
“It takes more than 14 days for them to get to the Copperbelt, turn around and come back, often with backhaul loads.”
A Fesarta member has since echoed Fitzamaurice’s reservations.
“I cannot see how this is going to be practically possible. And I cannot help but think it’s going to be the next income-generating cash cow, just like the carbon tax and agriculture tariffs we’re expected to pay on entering Zimbabwe.
“You will start seeing fake certificates flying around for a small fee.”