Players in the essential services sector play a critical role in keeping economies going as the world is engrossed in the COVID-19 battle. Essential services are derived from a broad spectrum of sectors notably, healthcare, transport and logistics, banking, food suppliers, governments, among others. It is therefore safe to say these are the warriors on front-line in the war against the pandemic. These sectors ensure populations have sufficient access to; medical supplies, PPEs, pharmaceuticals, food among others. The logistics sector plays the critical role of ensuring these key supplies are imported and distributed to the destinations in a timely manner and in the requisite state. As such, logistics providers in cargo transportation, warehousing, port, and customs clearance pass the baton to other front-line sectors with much needed supplies through the supply chain.
Unfortunately, the valuable front liners bear a huge brunt of COVID-19 infections arising from the exposure they face in the course of business. In June 2020, Kenya announced that 72 health care workers have tested positive to the COVID-19 virus and it is expected that these numbers will continue to rise. Government officials manning border posts have not been spared and several infections have been registered at key ports of entry in Kenya. Truck drivers are today required to take COVID-19 test every 14 days failure to which, they will not be allowed to move cargo via the Port of Mombasa or key borders posts without a certificate declaring the driver COVID-19 negative. This decision is informed by an appreciation that the truck drivers are amongst the vulnerable groups who risk infection to the virus as they move the cargo along the Northern Corridor to various destinations within the Kenyan borders and beyond.
Save the Children’s report dated 1st June states that “misinformation around how COVID-19 spreads is a concerning barrier to reducing infection rates of the disease. Prejudice against those affected by the virus, including frontline health workers and diaspora communities and their families, is contributing to stigmatisation across sub-Saharan Africa and discouraging people from seeking healthcare if they develop symptoms.” This statement aptly captures the stigmatization that front liners face from the communities due to failure to understand the pandemic prevalence and infection. Truck drivers have shared instances where they have been chased away by communities as they park the trucks for the night. This is due to the community misconception that their very existence in that locality will lead to the spread of the Corona virus in that area. The horrors that drivers face at neighboring borders such as Uganda, Rwanda Sudan paint a bleak picture with drivers being called Corona and shunned from using services in eateries, shops and lodgings. One driver details, “Once you enter the Ugandan border you encounter a really hostile situation. In fact, they rarely talk to us,”
Northern Corridor Transit and Transport Coordination Authority (NCTTCA) whose member states include; Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan address the challenges brought about the COVID-19 pandemic stating, “We understand the difficult situation our Corridor finds itself in and we fully support the national, regional and international measures being taken to flatten the curve for COVID-19 spread. Our top priority in this unsettling time is to ensure continuous supply of essential goods including medicines, fuel, and food is fully facilitated along the Northern Corridor and at the same time limit the spread of COVID-19.”
True to fact, communities continue to enjoy a regular and steady supply of much needed goods for both commercial and domestic use due to the front-line heroes in the logistics industry. Their diligence and hard work despite the COVID-19 threat has allowed most populations to enjoy a fairly normal life in terms of accessing day to day supplies, of course with a few a lifestyle adjustments as prescribed by the respective governments and health bodies to stem the spread of infections.
Let us not lose focus! The common enemy here is the COVID-19 pandemic, not the front liner who is going out on a limb to ensure key products and services are available to us. The front liner bears great risks and surmounts great challenges, sometimes at the cost of their own health and life, to ensure that you and I live a life as normal as it can get in these circumstances. Next time you see a trucker, a health care worker, or any other essential service provider, share a word of encouragement and salute them for the great work and sacrifices they are taking to keep us going.
Do not forget to wear a face mask, sanitize, wash hands with soap and water, observe social distance, avoid unnecessary travel and crowded places.