Uganda drops mandatory Covid-19 tests for truckers

Saturday January 08 2022

Truckers last Tuesday left their vehicles parked at the Busia border in protest over mandatory Covid-19 tests, creating a traffic jam of more than 50km. PHOTO | FILE


Kampala was last week locked up in endless crisis meetings seeking fresh ways to end a strike by truckers over mandatory testing of all drivers at border crossing points.

On Friday, Ugandan authorities agreed to allow cargo truck crews with negative Covid-19 test results taken within 72 hours to transit through the country and to recognise PCR test results from Kenya as long as they are carried out in one of the EAC Secretariat’s recognised laboratories. The government also reduced Covid-19 testing fees from $30 at the borders to $25 for truckers.

“As an interim measure, Uganda government agreed to clear all truck drivers and their accompanying staff with negative Covid-19 PCR results taken in 72 hours,” said Uganda’s Director of Health Services Henry Mwebesa in a statement.

This came as a truck pile-up started to build up along the Kenya border with Uganda following Uganda’s proposed review of the Regional Electronic Cargo and Drivers Tracking System (RECDTS), which allows Covid-19 testing after 14 days, to a shorter duration of seven days due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant.

Dr Mwebesa said the new measures will help clear the backlog of cargo at Uganda’s borders following the strike that began last week on Monday.

The Kampala business community had opposed the new Covid-19 containment measures saying they were increasing the cost of living in the region.


“Our stand as Kampala City Traders Association (Kacita) is for East African countries to scrap the multiple testing at customs’ exit and entry points. This is adding to the costs of doing business and reducing on the turnaround times for cargo,” said Jemba Mulondo, Kacita secretary for defence and environment.

Ministry of Health spokesperson Emmanuel Ainebyoona said Uganda decided to introduce mandatory testing at all points of entry and exit to fight surging Covid-19 cases. The fees apply to border points and airports but the reduction applied only to truck drivers.

The test is free in Kenya, while Uganda charges, regardless of the test results from Kenya.

On Tuesday night, truckers left their vehicles parked at the Busia border in protest over the mandatory test, creating a traffic jam of over 50km and blocking entry into Uganda. An estimated 1,300 transit trucks cross the border post every day.

Clearing agents say transit cargo to Southern Sudan via Elegu border has reduced significantly as most of the trucks come from the Port of Mombasa.

The Kenya Transporters Association (KTA) had threatened to suspend hauling of cargo over the testing directive.

“We need assurance on the safety and the security of drivers and trucks in case the result turns out positive. Where will the drivers be isolated and at what costs? Who will pay the cost? What will be the duration of isolation period if the driver is asymptomatic?” posed KTA chairman Newton Wang’oo.

Federation of East African Freight Forwarders Association president Fred Seka urged the region to fast-track the adoption of the EAC Covid-19 vaccine passport to promote uptake of jabs among truck drivers and other logistics sector workers.

The test is free in Kenya, while Uganda charges, regardless of the test results from Kenya.

The measure was adopted by Uganda’s interim ministerial meeting chaired by Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja.

With the move, Kampala has bowed to pressure from logistics and transport industry players to harmonise its Covid-19 testing modalities with other East African Community (EAC) member states.

“We are urging Uganda authorities to consider the new directive and drop the $30 charged per test, which is an additional cost since in the other East African Community (EAC) states, Covid-19 tests are carried out free of charge. We also want clarification of how frequently the test will be carried out and their duration,” said KTA chairman Newton Wang’oo in a statement copied to the ministers of Health in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda.