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Tanzania bans Kenyan trucks as Covid-19 diplomatic row escalates

In a move likely to escalate the already sour diplomatic relations, Tanzania on Monday banned Kenyan truck drivers from entering the country with immediate effect.

Tanga Regional Commissioner Martine Shigela warned that any Kenyan truck that comes to the Hororo border will not be allowed into the East African country.

“I have come here to order all the authorities at this border point that starting today, actually starting now as I speak, if there is a truck from Kenya carrying cargo to Tanzania, it is illegal,” Shigela said amid applause from those attending the media briefing.

Trucks heading to other countries in the south such as Malawi, Zambia, DR Congo will, however, be allowed passage through Tanzania.

The regional boss lamented that Tanzanian truckers were staying at the border with Kenya with goods for more than a week and then declared coronavirus positive.

He blamed Kenyans for allegedly taking Covid-19 into Tanzania claiming Tanzanian health officials had tested Kenyan travellers and more than 19 tested positive.

“We thus cannot allow them to come with their corona and bring it to our country,” he said.

On Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta closed the country’s borders with Tanzania and Somalia effective midnight as part of measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Kenyatta banned movement of persons and passengers into and out of Kenya via the two borders for 21 days following the rise of cross-border Covid-19 transmission.

The following day, Tanzanian Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu banned Kenyan trucks from crossing the border, saying they would be offloaded at the border.

Kenyatta exempted food trucks but the drivers must undergo compulsory Covid-19 tests and only cross the border into Kenya if they test negative for the virus.

He noted that in the past week, the country had witnessed increased imported cases through the borders, adding that these areas had become a matter of grave concern.

On Monday, the government announced that 53 truck drivers tested positive at the various entry points between Kenya and Tanzania, including 51 Tanzanians and two Burundians who were all turned back.

Tanzania’s president Pombe Magufuli on Sunday termed Kenya’s move misplaced as closing borders would affect the economy and block transportation of food.

He has been criticised globally for his approach to dealing with the Covid-19, at a time when the pandemic is ravaging the country.

Magufuli vowed not to place the neighbouring country on lockdown to tame the spread of the novel virus, saying such a move would be disastrous for the economy.

He encouraged Tanzanians to continue working hard to improve the economy, saying his country would be there to help countries that would be suffering as a result of the lock-down they imposed on their people during the pandemic.

The Tanzanian head of state intimaed that he was considering reopening universities later this week if Covid-19 numbers continue ‘stabilising.’

Magufuli claimed that majority of Covid-19 patients admitted in hospitals across Tanzania had recovered and were subsequently discharged.

The US embassy in Tanzania last week raised concern over the rising and unreported Covid-19 cases in the country.

A health alert issued on May 13, 2020 said the risk of contracting Covid-19 in Dar es Salaam, a major city and commercial port, is extremely high.

“Despite limited official reports, all evidence points to exponential growth of the epidemic in Dar and other locations in Tanzania,” the statement read.

The embassy noted that Tanzania had not released any data on the virus since April 29 hence the exact situation as far as Covid-19 is concerned remains unclear.