By Mashudu Netsianda/ Andile Tshuma
The Ministry of Health and Child Care has raised a red flag on in-transit truck drivers who have been identified as people at high risk of contracting and spreading Covid-19.
Health authorities noted that border posts which truck drivers often pass through with essential goods have become hot-spots for the contagion.
Truckers are the heartbeat of the regional trade who frequent routes in the region as essential workers.
A Chronicle news crew observed at the weekend that soon after they are cleared at the Beitbridge Border Post, some cross-border truckers prefer to park their vehicles at local truck ports and rest before proceeding with their journeys.
However, during that period some of them end up hiring local sex workers oblivious of the dangers of fuelling the spread of the global pandemic.
Some sex workers in Beitbridge who spoke to Chronicle revealed that truck drivers were their major clients.
“Business has been very low, but lately, I have been relying on truck drivers. Some of the drivers have become my regular customers such that upon arrival at the border, they contact me and we spend the night together,” said a sex worker who only identified herself as Fiona.
“She stays at a house in Dulivhadzimu, which has been turned into a brothel and shares a room with four other sex workers.
A Malawian truck driver, Mr Frederick Mutale, interviewed at a truck inn in Beitbridge, confessed that he had two girlfriends in the border town who keep him entertained during his regular business trips. He plies the Johannesburg-Blantyre route.
“I have two women that entertain me when I am in Beitbridge and each time I arrive at the border, I contact one of them and we spend the night together inside the truck,” he said.
Despite the dangers associated with Covid-19, it appears truckers and sex workers are unfazed.
“It is better to die of coronavirus than hunger. I have children who depend on me and as a single mother I have to make sure my children go to school and have a decent meal, which is why you see me taking such risks,” said Ms Nyaradzo Moyo.
Domestic and international travel have proven to be one of the main contributors to the spread of Covid-19 among global communities.
Several countries have closed their borders to human traffic and only allow the movement of cargo between countries.
According to the Sadc Guidelines on Harmonisation and Facilitation of Cross Border Transport Operations across the Region During the Covid-19 Pandemic, only trucks carrying cargo that includes food, medical supplies, fuel, agricultural inputs and supplies, chemicals, packaging, equipment, spares, maintenance materials and ancillary products used in the production and processing of food products, security, emergency and humanitarian relief services and other goods and products as may be agreed between member states are allowed to cross borders within the Sadc region.
In a telephone interview yesterday, the director of epidemiology and disease control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Portia Manangazira said truckers in transit are some of the high-risk travellers.
“Truck drivers must by law not spend time exceeding three days within Zimbabwe’s borders but we are aware that some spend more days in the country and visit residential areas. It is quite problematic and in some cases they aid the inter-city travel and even assist people to cross borders when they should not be travelling and that on its own presents challenges,” she said.
“We know it is happening and are working with relevant authorities so that it is put to an end.”
Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Dr Solwayo Ngwenya urged Government through its relevant departments to closely monitor the activities of truckers as they enter the country.
“Having borders still partially open with people coming in, is in itself problematic despite that it is necessary for economic purposes. These trucks will move from one border to another and you can imagine what will happen if this truck driver is Covid-19 positive,” he said.
“Drivers may offer people lifts and possibly infect them during their stay in the country. If that driver is in transit and destined for another country, he will spread the virus probably at every town where he will stop for food. Money will exchange hands and more people will be infected.”
Police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi recently warned haulage truck drivers who are in the habit of offering lifts to people travelling between cities including border jumpers.
“Besides being a criminal offence, this act poses a risk to the Government’s efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. Police checkpoints, roadblocks and patrols have been activated to account for such drivers,” he said.
Asst Comm Nyathi said haulage trucks should stick to their mandate of transporting cargo and urged transport companies to take stern action against errant drivers. The Chronicle