The heads of state of the East African Community (EAC) bloc on Tuesday agreed on the need for a harmonized system for certification and sharing of COVID-19 test results.

Presidents Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Salva Kiir of South Sudan spoke in a virtual conference held to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic response in the region.

The conference chaired by Kagame, as the current chairperson of the regional bloc “agreed to adopt a harmonized system for certification and sharing of COVID-19 test results,” a communique issued at the end of the meeting reads in part.

Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli and Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza did not participate in the meeting ostensibly because they have taken a different path in their response to the novel coronavirus.

In lockdown, the EAC countries closed their land borders to incoming and outgoing traffic in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but movement of cargo trucks continues.

A recent spike in coronavirus numbers in the regional countries has been blamed on cross-border truck drivers.

Underlining the need for information sharing during crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the leaders called for adoption of a regional digital surveillance and tracking system for drivers and crew on COVID-19 for immediate use, the communique said.

The presidents also noted that the region’s key economic sectors are experiencing a slowdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic such as agriculture, trade, manufacturing and industry, tourism, hospitality and entertainment.

This, they said, necessitates establishment of special purpose financing schemes for small and medium enterprises to cushion them from the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The East African Business bloc in its April report urged governments in East Africa to earmark additional funds for the tourism sector which it said faces revenue losses of more than $5.4 billion in 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The leaders meanwhile stressed that partner states should prioritize regional value supply chains and support local production of essential medical products and supplies including masks, sanitizers, soaps, processed foods, ventilators as part of efforts to combat COVID-19 pandemic in the region.

Partner states, the presidents added, should facilitate farmers to continue farming activities during the pandemic and post-COVID-19 period, support agro-processing and supply chains as an import substitution measure.

The East African Community COVID-19 response plan unveiled at end of April entails scaling up sensitization programs and awareness creation on the virus while strengthening surveillance capacity at all key border points.

The confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached more than 66,000 as of Tuesday, with more than 22,000 recoveries and 2,300 deaths, according to figures by the World Health Organization.

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