Thursday, June 4, 2020

Government intensifies screening of truck drivers

Following a potentially fatal blunder that threatened to reverse efforts put in place to curb the spread of coronavirus, government health officials have now focused their attention of truck drivers.

This week all truckers arriving into the country trough Pioneer and Ramatlabama ports of entry near Lobatse were held at Lobatse Sports Complex waiting for clearance before embarking on their respective routes to deliver essentials amid the COVID-19 lockdown.

Speaking to Sunday Standard at the Lobatse Stadium Director of Health Services Dr Malaki Tshipayagae said the results were taking longer than they had hoped.

“I’m only here to assess the situation and offer necessary expert advice.”

Sunday Standard has learnt that some truck drivers in transit to Namibia had decided to turn back and take the longer route to Upington border gate between South Africa and Namibia.

According to an observer some companies in South Africa pay for express COVID-19 testing for their drivers in an effort to speed up delivery of cross border goods and services but Botswana authorities insist on carrying out their own testing, disregarding test certificates brought by the drivers.

This has prompted some to use alternative albeit longer routes to Namibia. With almost 13, 000 confirmed cases South Africa poses an existential threat to Botswana’s COVID-19 efforts.

Tshipayagae says testing of drivers at ports of entry will put the government in a better position to contain the virus and prevent more local transmissions. The government’s COVID-19 Task Force dropped the ball recently leading to another case of imported coronavirus, taking the national total to 24. The incident almost derailed government plans to ease lockdown and allow the nation to return to ‘normal’ business. 

Deputy Coordinator of the Task Team Dr Mosepele Mosepele broke the news early this week, admitting they had been less than strict on the screening of arriving truck drivers.

“We have only recently decided to test all arriving truck drivers before they move on to deliver services.”

He said even those in transit are screened for the virus. He said they use molecular diagnostic testing (RT-PCR) which helps to identify those who are infected at the time of the test. The tests detects the presence of the viral agent responsible for COVID-19. It tracks the presence of viral genetic material in a patient sample. Samples are taken from individuals using a swab to collect samples from the back of the nose or mouth, or via a bronchoalveolar lavage to collect samples from deep inside the lungs.

According to experts the test involves binding sequences on the genetic material that only are found in the virus and repeatedly copying everything in between. The process is then repeated several times, with a doubling of the target region with each cycle. A fluorescent signal is created when amplification occurs, and once the signal reaches a threshold, the test result is considered positive.

Dr Mosepele said it takes a day to get results. The truck in question had arrived on a Saturday when he was tested and released. It was only the following day on a Sunday that they received the positive results. By then the driver had already been to several public places including retailers before docking at CA Sales and Distribution in Gaborone. “We tracked down the driver as soon as we received the results,” Mosepele said. By the time, the Coordinator said, the driver may have already been in contact with at least 150 people. “This is why we encourage people to register their contact details when visiting public places. It helps make contact tracing easier.”

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