Monday, May 17, 2021

Poor telecomms network making COVID-19 zonal borders porous

To the writer’s knowledge, you wouldn’t be able to count on the fingers on your hands and the toes on your feet, the number of people who have gone through the Dibete check point without being asked for COVID-19 travel permits. After almost a year of what should be stringent movement restrictions, there are days when the fatigued soldiers manning the checkpoint just wave motorists through. There can be no doubt that this recklessness defeats the objective of containing the virus within COVID-19 zones and has certainly become one of the ways that the virus crosses borders. It turns out that in almost off-the-grid areas, technology could also be doing the same thing.

This past Tuesday, the permit status of people going through a checkpoint in Kuke (between Maun and Gantsi) couldn’t be verified because the telecommunications network was down. Most people apply for the permit online and at checkpoints, give their national identity card (Omang) numbers to officers (mostly gun-toting soldiers) who type in this information on smartphones they have been provided with to check whether one has been cleared for inter-zonal travel. In the mid-afternoon of last Tuesday, officers manning the checkpoint told those passing through that the “network was down”, meaning that they couldn’t verify the permit status of travelers.

The government’s poor husbandry of its technology is a huge factor in this debacle. Last year, the online permit service sent an SMS to the applicant’s phone number. At checkpoints one had to merely show the SMS to the officers. The service no longer sends the SMS, meaning that unless you acquired a hard copy of the permit, which very few people do, you have to give the officers your Omang number, which almost all inter-zonal travelers prefer. The process is laborious, takes too long and is one of the reasons why officers tire mid-shift and wave motorists through without verifying their permit status.

On the whole, COVID fatigue has evidently set in many more environments and the screening stations at one too many workplaces have become part of the décor. As problematic are the varying standards applied with regards to the management of these stations. At some stations, there are attendants who write down customers’ personal details, meaning that fewer pairs of hands come into contact with the register book and pen. At other stations, attendants do no more than take customers’ body temperature, spray hand sanitiser (or window cleaner – who knows?) onto customers’ hands, then ask them to write down their details, heightening the possibility of virus spread because many more pairs of hands come into contact with the same register book and pen.

This happens because those responsible for the implementation of COVID-1 health guidelines have never sought to set uniform standards and discretion has become the norm.

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