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Uganda scraps Covid-19 measures to battle fuel crisis

Uganda has announced it is suspending mandatory Covid-19 testing at the border with Kenya after the measure caused huge truck queues, disrupting fuel supplies across the country.

“The (Ugandan) Ministry of Health has immediately and temporarily suspended mandatory testing at the two border points to ease movement of trucks into and within the country,” ministry official Charles Olaro told AFP news agency.

He said the move was also aimed at averting a “potential super-spreader” event at the border with so many drivers caught in the logjam.

Kenyan media reports spoke of traffic snarl-ups snaking as much as 70 kilometres (40 miles) from its border with Uganda because of the delays caused by the coronavirus testing.

The crisis has led to panic-buying and skyrocketing prices at the petrol pump, with one minister warning traders not to take advantage of the shortages to “cheat” Ugandans.

In some parts of the country, petrol stations had run out of fuel while at others, petrol was selling for $3.40 (12,000 shillings), a threefold increase.

‘Recipe for disaster’

The border delays first began in late December when truckers staged protests at a Covid-19 testing fee imposed by Uganda.

The fee was later scrapped, but the backlogs persisted because of what drivers say was the slow rate of testing and customs clearances.

“The suspension of mandatory testing was long overdue,” Juma Sentongo, a member of the Uganda Long Distance Truck Drivers Association, told AFP.

“It was a recipe for disaster because of congestion of trucks at the borders, a situation that has seen the fuel prices hit all-time highs.”

“As of this morning, we have seen many trucks leaving the border points and heading into Uganda with cargo and hopefully we will see fuel prices coming down in next 24 hours,” he added.

In Kampala and other towns, many motorists were rushing to fill their tanks fearing further shortages, causing traffic jams in the capital.

Energy Minister Ruth Nankabirwa said on Monday the border delays were caused by a faulty scanner used by custom officials to check incoming cargo vehicles as well as “issues regarding Covid-19”.

“I call on the dealers not to use this chance to cheat Ugandans,” she said.

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