Health and Wellness Minister Dr. Lemogang Kwape has allayed fears that some workers at the country’s border posts are not considered frontline services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eight departments – Port Health; Crops; Veterinary; Immigration; Customs; Police; Botswana Defence Force (BDF); and Support Staff – constitute the border post.
Each department has a specific role to play in facilitating the movement of goods, services and people into and out of the country. For example, port health deals with health screening while Crops and Veterinary issue permits for imports of plants and animal products. But since the onset of the extreme social distancing (lockdown) announced on March 20th complete with its attendant measures -all intended to fight the raging COVID-19 pandemic - some workers at border posts have expressed anxiety over their welfare, health protection and security of tenure.
They feel that only the Port Health, Immigration; BDF and Police are considered frontline services and therefore qualify for such benefits as protective clothing (PPEs) and crisis insurance under the COVID-19 Regulations. However Minister Kwape allayed these fears when he told Botswana Guardian Online Monday afternoon that every department at the Border Post is considered essential service. He said the only difference is that they perform “different layers” of service.
For example, Immigration and Customs predominantly handle paperwork, while interaction in other departments may require physical contact. But this notwithstanding, the minister said everyone is considered a frontline service provider and must be provided with all the requisite personal protective equipment. However, there is still an issue with procurement of these resources including test kits from China, as they are scarce on account of the huge demand expressed by the whole world. Botswana hopes to navigate this difficulty through emergency procurement as stipulated by the state of emergency regulations.
When asked to comment on these issues, Defense, Justice and Security Minister Kagiso Mmusi referred this publication to Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) whose director, Goitseone Mosalakatane was not readily available at time of going to press. The border posts workers that spoke to this publication also complained that they are not provided with protective clothing, nor are they tested for corona virus even though they are the first port of call between the country and truck drivers that deliver goods and services from South Africa, where the disease burden is high.
“We also have families, if we get infected at the border post and go to our respective homes at the end of the day there’s a real fear that we could endanger the health of our loved ones,” said one official that did not want to be named. The official suggested that even the envisaged mass testing initially targeting 20, 000 people, should start with the border post staffers. In its bid to protect the country from the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic the government closed some ports of entry on 20th March 2020. Only major commercial ports – Kazungula, Mamuno, Martins Drift, Mohembo, Ngoma, Pioneer, Tlokweng and Ramatlabama - remained open.