After several attempts to hold a virtual meeting on the New Coronavirus outbreak, East African Heads of State were able to meet on Tuesday in a virtual meeting, during which they vowed to work together to jointly fight the virus.
President Paul Kagame, the sitting Chairman of the bloc, chaired a virtual EAC Consultative Meeting with Heads of State of Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan on the regional response to COVID-19.
Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and Salva Kiir Maryadit were present while President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania and Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi missed the virtual meeting.
The EAC Secretariat said that the Heads of State, who met in a warm and cordial atmosphere, decided that partner states adopt a harmonized system for certification and sharing of COVI-19 test results.
“The Heads of State took note of the EAC Regional COVID-19 response plan and its key targeted interventions and directed the ministers responsible for Health, Trade, Transport and EAC affairs to ensure that it complements the partner states’ national COVID-19 response plans,”
“The Heads of State noted that information sharing is key during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic and directed the ministers responsible for Health, Trade, Transport and EAC affairs to finalise and adopt an EAC digital surveillance and tracking system for drivers and crew on COVID-19 for immediate use by partner states,” the outcomes from the meeting read.
EAC heads also agreed to undertake bilateral engagements to address cross-border challenges and recognized findings of the EAC Secretariat mission that assessed the situation on clearance processes at the borders during the pandemic.
EAC countries have been hard hit by the outbreak. Regional leaders noted that the bloc’s key economic sectors are experiencing a slowdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic -the most hit sectors being as agriculture, trade, manufacturing and industry, tourism, hospitality and entertainment.
The Presidents directed partner states to prioritize regional value/supply chains to support local production of essential medical products and supplies including masks, sanitizers, soaps, coveralls, face shields, processed food and ventilators as part of efforts to combat COVID-19 in the region.
The Heads of State further directed partner states to facilitate farmers to continue farming activities during the pandemic and post COVID-19 period, highlighting the need to support agro-processing and value chains as an import substitution measure.
The leaders agreed to establish special purpose financing schemes for small and medium enterprises, to cushion them from the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Heads of State designated the ministers responsible for Health, Transport and East African Community affairs to be the focal persons for the regional COVID-19 response under the leadership of the Ministers of Health,” the statement from the meeting reads.
The Heads of State directed the focal persons to immediately work on a regional mechanism for testing and certification of truck drivers prior to their departure at the point of origin and every two weeks, and report to the Heads of State.
Truck drivers and their assistants traversing the EAC have been in the spotlight for being behind cross-border transmission of the virus.
The EAC leaders expressed their appreciation to development partners for their continued support, particularly during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic.
EAC countries, particularly Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, have been recipients of funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help in the fight against Coronavirus.
Rwanda received $109.4m and Uganda had $491.5m approved by the IMF while Kenya had $739m disbursed by the fund to cushion the country from the economic impact of COVID-19.
The Heads of State agreed to meet regularly to address the response efforts and expressed the need for flexibility in the application of the EAC rules and procedures when faced with a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic.