Sunday, 10 May 2020

Zambia Closes Border With Tanzania Due To Coronavirus

By Paul Shalala
Dr. Chitalu Chilufya at the press briefing in Lusaka 
-Picture courtesy of Ministry of Health

Zambia has shut its border with Tanzania a day after it recorded 85 Corona Virus cases, most of whom were traced from the border town of Nakonde.

On Saturday, the town recorded 76 Corona Virus cases, which included 18 Tanzanian truck drivers and eight of their Zambian counterparts.

Others included 31 Immigration, customs and clearing agents, 13 sex workers and lodge workers, two health workers from Nakonde District Hospital and four people who came in touch with a Zambian couple which had travelled to Tanzania and tested positive two weeks ago.

During a press briefing, Health Minister Dr. Chitalu Chilufya said starting Monday, no vehicle will be allowed to enter or leave Nakonde to allow for massive screening and retraining of health and border personnel.

“We are temporarily closing the border at Nakonde and we will ensure that we screen everyone. We are also enforcing a Stay Ay Home order in the town so that we deal with the virus,” said Dr. Chilufya.

The Minister revealed that Corona Virus cases in Nakonde are likely to increase as more samples have been collected from the border town.

“We have picked up a number of samples from there and tomorrow we will be announcing the results. We are still doing a validation for those samples and I urge the public to be patient. However, stay away from Nakonde, don't go there,” he added.

Nakonde is a busy border town between Tanzania and Zambia.

On a daily basis, about 1,000 vehicles cross either side of the border, mostly trucks plying the Dar Es Salaam – Lubumbashi route which feeds the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo with equipment and fuel from abroad.

Sex work is a thriving business in the town and with the threat of the Corona Virus, contact tracing has been heightened.

The busy border has made the hospitality industry grow which has seen hundreds of lodges being built.

Zambians who travel to Tanzania to order clothes or pick imported vehicles through the Dar Es Salaam port, spend their nights in Nakonde where sex work is a ‘normal’ way of life.

“Sex workers have been very helpful in tracing some of their clients. In one case, a sex worker gave us a contact of a Tanzanian truck driver who was her client. When we phoned the number, the person who picked the call said the owner of the phone had already been hospitalized for Covid 19,” said Dr. Chilufya.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Home Affairs is sending more Police officers to Nakonde to support the response by the Ministry of Health.

“Tomorrow we will be sending more Police reinforcements to the border to enforce the health regulations announced by the President. People have to be home, we will not allow any movements,” said Home Affairs Minister Stephen Kampyongo at a joint press briefing with his Home Affairs counterpart in Lusaka.

He added that the Police Command in Muchinga Province were Nakonde District belongs, is mobilizing officers to be sent to the border tomorrow.

Already, all trucks from Nakonde are escorted by armed Police and they are not allowed to stop anyhow along the Great North Road.

The shutting down of the Nakonde border is likely to impact those who run small businesses such as clearing and forwarding, bus services and those who sale the popular Nakonde rice.

The rice, which is mainly grown across the border in Tanzania but packaged in Nakonde, is popular across the country and it is sold by thousands of small scale traders who transport it to markets across the country through trucks and buses.

On a lighter note, Zambian men have taken to social media announcing that they are switching off their phones for fear of being identified by some of the sex workers in Nakonde in case they hand over their phone numbers to health authorities as their recent contacts.

This joke has gone viral on Facebook and Twitter with some prominent radio personalities joining in the satire.

Since the wearing of masks was made mandatory in Zambia last month, most Zambians have largely followed the order.

However, across the border in the adjacent town of Tunduma in Tanzania, masks are nowhere to be seen.

This is being seen as the reason why cases in Nakonde are high because health regulations are relaxed in Tanzania.

President John Magufuli has caused controversy with his handling of the Corona Virus in Tanzania.

Cumulatively, Zambia has now recorded 267 cases of the Corona Virus out of which 7 died, 117 have recovered while 143 are still being treated.

According to the Zambia National Institute of Public Health, cases have been recorded in four out of Zambia's 10 provinces.