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An acute quarantine regime with progressive buy-in from the road freight sector has helped health officials to curb the coronavirus at Walvis Bay, Namibia’s primary port city served by four hinterland linkages from Angola, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
According to Edward Shivute, a project manager for the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG), the port’s Covid containment approach comprised several key elements.
Among other things it included having roadside clinics along all four of the port’s feeder routes – the Trans Cunene into Angola, the Ndola-Lubumbashi Corridor (NLC) into the Copperbelt area on the border of Zambia and the DRC, the Trans Kalahari through Botswana towards Gauteng, as well as the Trans Oranje across this river into South Africa’s Northern Cape Province.
However, it was the combined logistical planning around staging a temporary quarantine facility on the M36/C14 road just outside Walvis Bay itself that helped the WBCG to keep transmission from truck drivers down to below 10%.
“Walvis Bay is where truck drivers from all these corridors converge, and we realised we were going to focus on preventing the port from becoming an epicentre for the virus.”
It entailed, Shivute emphasised, a mix of strategies involving multi-sectoral partners, health and social services, and assistance from transporters who provided containers to create a “walled in” facility opposite the Dunes Mall.
As a result of the combined confinement effort, truck drivers – both local and foreign – had an overnight area where they could safely stay.
“Previously such a facility was non-existent,” Shivute said.
Moreover, it was equipped with the necessary testing requirements to adequately serve drivers, additional amenities to make their stay as comfortable as possible, and it was watched over by the Namibian Police Force (NPF).
“We even integrated the facility with HIV-related services because of the awareness of comorbidities to treat long-distance drivers for risks such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and sugar diabetes.”
And yet, despite keeping a tight check on the facility, a local driver managed to breach security for a night on the town in Walvis Bay.
Known as Case 21, it caused a spreader event with many positive cases of the virus traced to the one driver.
Shivute said from the one incident they learned how to deal with infection flare-ups and how not to stigmatise drivers.
“It helped us to adapt our approach and increase awareness among drivers of the dangers of Covid-19, what needs to be done to stop contracting a potentially fatal virus, and what transporters ought to do in providing things like masks and hand sanitiser to help their employees.”
The response from all concerned, both public and private, meant Walvis Bay has been – for the most part – kept free of becoming the epicentre of an outbreak health officials feared it could become because of its exposure to incoming freight-sector personnel.
“Most companies came on board through quick response of transport operators. It helped us to keep the transmission rate below 10%, an astonishing achievement compared to how quickly community transmission skyrocketed.”