by Ester Mbathera

STATE facilities are overwhelmed with specimen for Covid-19 and the ministry of health has engaged private laboratories to assist with Covid-19 testing due to the expansion of targeted testing.

Health executive director Ben Nangombe told The Namibian yesterday that the process will be facilitated by a team responsible for laboratories under the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s nine pillars for the management of the response to Covid-19.

“The backlog is indicative of hard work being done by the surveillance team and also an indication that the expanded targeted testing that is underway is producing results. People are being traced, the active contact tracing teams are on the ground, they are swabbing people and that is why we have such a large number of specimen being collected to be tested,” he said.

Nangombe added that the ministry is already making use of the PathCare Laboratory in Windhoek and had already submitted close to 100 samples for testing.

“If there are other laboratories in the country that have the capacity, we want to utilise that capacity to clear the backlog because it has unintended consequences where people who are in quarantine are staying slightly longer than they were supposed to and that also has cost implications to the government,” he said.

The backlog has affected cross-border transporters whose drivers have to go into mandatory 14-day quarantine should they wish to visit their families.

Sebulon Shivute, a cross-border truck driver for a Windhoek transport firm, has been driving to and from South Africa since the national lockdown and he has not seen his family for close to three months.

He spent over 20 days in quarantine as opposed to the 14-day minimum period.

“I was supposed to come out after 14 days and then see my family for three days but I spent those three days here and my truck is ready. If I don’t get those kilometres in, I won’t make my bond repayment and food for next month. I just have to go on the road,” said Shivute.

Stephan Terblanche, chief executive officer of FP du Toit Transport says on several occasions, he had drivers threatening to resign as a result of the prolonged stay in quarantine.

“The drivers are suffering, it has been three months and they can’t go home and if they want to go home they must go into quarantine. The drivers look the operators in the eye daily expecting us to do something about it.

“We can’t go on like this. They come out and tell me they can’t do this anymore. They want to resign and take their pension and go to their families,” he said.

Terblanche says the practice of sending drivers into quarantine is only done in Namibia. This has resulted in transporters running at 60-70% efficiency because of parked trucks as drivers go into quarantine or trucks held up at the border for up to three days.

“The companies are also in big distress as a result of the prolonged quarantine of drivers. You don’t have drivers to create an income. You can only create an income if the wheels are running. If the driver is in quarantine the company’s income is also under pressure,” he added.

Nangombe said the government will speed up the testing process and release results quicker.

“This is an unprecedented situation and we are learning as we go. We are not saying that systems are perfect but systems are working. We have people working round the clock to ensure that we continue to release these results and help us fend off the pandemic particularly in Erongo region in general and Walvis Bay in particular,” said Nangombe.

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