By Mpho Tebele
Gaborone-Botswana is puzzled by rising cases of people who could have tested negative before departing the country in recent weeks but tested positive for COVID-19 upon return to their neighboring countries.
Botswana said this week it has started to contact its neighboring countries to investigate these ‘new’ cases with a view to launch appropriate contact tracing as per its protocols.
This comes after Botswana started its gradual easing of lockdown restrictions with the introduction of free movement within zones. The country has now been divided into COVID-19 zones which would assist with contact tracing.
Since ending a 48-days lockdown and allowing businesses and schools to open gradually on May 20, Botswana is yet to register local transmission but continues to witness a spike in cross border transmission (so far there are eight cross border cases that have been recorded, bringing the number to 35 cases across the country, 20 recoveries, 8 active and one death at the time of writing this article).
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 coordinator Dr Kereng Masupu said they were aware of people who tested positive for COVID-19 upon return to their home countries after having departed Botswana.
“The Government of Botswana has contacted its counterparts in the other country to investigate the cases with a view to start appropriate contact tracing as per our protocols, should our investigations reveal the need for additional contact tracing in Botswana,” he said.
Masupu added that “it is important to note that as travelers enter our country through border entry points all are tested to ensure that the virus is adequately managed. Measures currently at border points continue to be monitored continuously and are constantly improved to close gaps which may arise from time to time.”
For his part, the deputy coordinator of the Presidential task force, Professor Mosepele Mosepele admitted that while local Covid-19 transmissions are at an impressive low, the current threat the country was grappling with was the spread of the virus through cross-border importation.
At the time of going to press, Botswana had seven new cases of cross-border essential services, bringing transmission statistics to 35 reported positive cases, with one death, 14 826 negative results and 20 recovery cases.
Mosepele observed that the country was now grappling with the threat of regional importation of the virus.
“When lockdown started, we had 11 international cases which resulted in 12 local transmissions. Because of movement restrictions there was a time where we went for about a week without any new cases. At the time we only opened our borders for those transporting goods and other essential services. We have new cases from the neighboring countries,” said Mosepele.
Touching on a topical issue, Masupu said they have come up with measures aimed at resolving delays experienced by truck drivers at various border gates pertaining to the turnaround time of COVID-19 test results.’
“The Task Force has ensured that all the commissioned laboratories, the Botswana Vaccine Institute Laboratory, Botswana Harvard Aids Partnership and the National Veterinary Laboratories are now being fully utilized by working collaboratively to run the tests for truck drivers at various border gates,” said Masupu.
He said the enhanced process will reduce the waiting period to between 24 and 36 hours. This, he said, would ensure test results are released to the truck drivers without undue delays. “An electronic system has also been implemented to ensure the efficient distribution of COVID-19 test results to truck drivers. The laboratories have a combined capacity to conduct 4500 tests a day,” said Masupu.
Botswana introduced COVID-19 testing for truck drivers after confirming several imported cases of the coronavirus from truckers recently. Truck drivers had expressed concerns about long delays at Botswana’s borders due to required COVID-19 testing and the number of days they had to be quarantined while awaiting their results.
They had to for up to five days before being cleared to deliver goods in Botswana, or transit through the country.