Friday, July 10, 2020

Ramokgwebana Border Post a COVID-19 ticking time bomb

Efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in Botswana could be hanging in the balance if the situation at the Ramokgwebana point of entry between Botswana and Zimbabwe remains unchanged.

Disgruntled truck drivers have pointed to some loose ends in the government’s own COVID-19 prevention systems that have the potential to deal a devastating blow to current efforts of curbing the spread of the virus.Speaking to this publication recently the drivers have accused health officials of among others, putting their health at risk from possible infection. There are no safety measures to ensure the drivers do not spread the virus amongst themselves.Sunday Standard enquiries have established that while awaiting results some truck drivers move on to neighbouring Zimbabwe only to come back a couple of days later to claim their negative results.The negative diagnosis, which may not be a true reflection of their current status, gives them a license to get back into Botswana unsupervised, placing their contacts at risk of infection.

The test results, according to a health official based at the Border Post, are valid for a period of three days. The long waiting period for results (which can take up to a whole week), has also proved to be financially taxing for the drivers.They have to buy their own meals and necessities pending results.  This has forced some to return back to Zimbabwe where they risk contracting the virus while awaiting results.While some amenities have been provided for drivers coming into the country from South Africa through Pioneer and Ramatlabama border posts in the south, the situation at Ramokgwebana in the North remains dire. “The problem is while it takes time to receive results there is no assistance from the government authorities to ease our long stay here at the border.

There are no showers. You cannot have somebody going for a whole week without a shower especially now. We also have to buy food every day and we run out cash,” says a Zimbabwean truck driver.“While we wait for results we end up hanging out with new arrivals and by the time we receive our results we would have already been in contact with those who may have been already infected.”Another driver (a South African national) says the best solution is to speed up the testing process. “In the meantime we are on our own. There are no efforts from officials to address our concerns.” The specimen from the drivers have to be transported 500 km by road to a Gaborone COVID-19 testing lab. This is despite Ramokgwebana Border post being just 70 km from the second city, Francistown. The government has recently been receiving reports of cases in Zimbabwe with links to Botswana.

The latest cases forced Botswana to carry out community testing in Mogoditshane village as a blanket approach to possible contact tracing. Zimbabwe currently stands at over 237 confirmed cases of COVID-19, presenting a serious risk to Botswana especially by commuting truck drivers. The country’s health system has already been under criticism by citizens placed under institutional quarantine. Zimbabwean media has reported cases of possible exposure at quarantine centres with one of the centres in the Masvingo province reportedly recording as high as 25 new cases a day.

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Sunday Standard July 5 – 11

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of July 5 - 11, 2020.