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Porous borders the new Covid-19 frontiers

Wednesday May 13 2020
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A worker checks the temperature of travellers at the border post with Kenya in Namanga, northern Tanzania, on March 16, 2020, on the day Tanzania confirmed its first Covid-19 case. PHOTO | FILBERT RWEYEMAMU | AFP

By NATION TEAM

More than 10 Covid-19 cases recorded in Kenya in the last seven days have been traced to Somalia and Tanzania.

The Kenya-Somalia border is especially proving to be a headache in the war on the virus, if recent cases in Mandera and Wajir are anything to go by.

Wajir, which reported its first infection five days ago, now has seven active cases despite efforts to boost surveillance on the Somalia border.

According to the Ministry of Health, all the cases were imported from Somalia — a country experiencing a surge in infections, with 835 cases reported by Wednesday.

The seven had crossed to Somalia to sell camels sourced in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera.

Wajir is among the four counties that share the porous border with Somalia — making it difficult for police and immigration officials to man every entry point.

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On April 27, four people were intercepted by security agents in Diff, a small town on the border, as they attempted to return to Kenya from a livestock trade trip in Mogadishu.

It is from these arrests that the first positive Covid-19 case in Wajir was reported.

HIGH RISK

Wajir Governor Mohamed Abdi said the county is at risk of recording more coronavirus cases due to the porous border.

“The border with Somalia is the new Covid-19 frontier since our people are mostly herders and traders. They cross into Somalia many times,” the county boss said.

One of the Covid-19 cases reported in Kwale was picked from Lunga Lunga border post.

County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo told the Nation that authorities are setting up a police post at the border to stop the illegal crossing.

Lunga Lunga crossing has many unofficial routes to Tanzania, a country that has been recording a double-digit rise in coronavirus cases daily.

Government officials in Taita-Taveta are on high alert, too, as the county shares a border with Tanzania.

A man was isolated at Taveta Hospital on Monday after sneaking into Kenya from the neighbouring country.

Health Cabinet Mutahi Kagwe Secretary on Wednesday said several medics who attended to the patient have been quarantined.

Cases of people using illegal routes at the Taveta-Holili border are still being reported.

Tanzania has reported 500 Covid-19 cases, with Kenyans in the border town expressing fears of infections.

POLICE CORRUPTION

County Commissioner Rhonda Onyancha last week warned of mandatory quarantine for sugar dealers crossing into Tanzania on motorcycles.

“We have beefed security on the border. Those defying government orders will face the law,” she warned.

In Migori, the unrestricted movement across the border has made the county vulnerable to coronavirus.

Mr Austin Ochieng, a resident at Kogaja village that borders Tanzania, told the Nation that police officers at the border are easily compromised.

“In case surveillance is heightened, we just part with a few notes and carry on with our activities. The officers are very friendly,” Mr Ochieng said.

He added that traders from Tanzania have also learnt the trick and are moving into Kenya in droves.

It was business as usual when the Nation team landed in Migori on Tuesday.

Only the main entry point in Isebania had been closed, but locals and traders smuggled goods into and out of the country using unofficial routes.

Residents said maintaining strict cross border surveillance is a herculean task since many Kenyans work in Tanzania.

Matarangwe, Guitembe, Nyamataburo, Nyamutiro, Nyamagagana and Kogaja towns continue to record an influx of travellers, some with goods. Others are sneaking into Tanzania for drinks.

SAFETY GEAR

An Isebania resident, who identified himself as Peter Highway, said police officers only focus on the main entry, where the Kenya Revenue Authority and Immigration officials have restricted movement.

Movement to and out of the country is on a few kilometres from the main border, with traders and passengers plying their trade unperturbed.

“In Motemurabu, for instance, it is hard to tell a Kenyan from a Tanzanian because everybody speaks Kuria,” Mr Matiko Mwise, a resident, said.

“They move out of the country for drinks and are back when bars in Tanzania are close.”

A policeman who talked to the Nation anonymously said officers are reluctant to make arrests, as they do not have personal protective equipment.

“Following news of new infections, we find it difficult to handle suspects without protection gear so we let them go,” the officer said.

He raised the concerns even as Governor Okoth Obado said his government has procured enough protective equipment to be supplied to frontline workers.

The Nation team observed some compliance to Covid-19 guidelines at Busia border crossing.

However, police officers mingled freely with residents who did not have masks and other protective kit.

SOCIAL EVENTS

A part from screening truck drivers entering the country from Uganda, other safety regulations have been neglected by locals and the authorities.

Two truck drivers were confirmed to be Covid-19 positive.

At Namanga border point in Kajiado, truck drivers from Tanzania are only subjected to temperature checks before they are allowed into Kenya.

It is easier to enter Kenya from Tanzania while driving than vice versa.

Only truckers and other drivers face restrictions, with communities on the border trekking in and out of Kenya freely.

Traders from both countries were conducting business freely on Wednesday. This is despite Tanzanians at the market not wearing masks or observing social distance.

The Coronavirus Tracker

Tanzanian housekeepers, commonly referred to as day scholars, cross at will in the morning and get back in the evening. Kenyans are crossing into Tanzania to attend church services and to drink.

Report by Fredrick Fadhili, Manase Ostialo, Lucy Mkanyika, Ian Bryon, Shaban Makokha, Bruhan Makong and Stanley Ngotho.

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