A group of long-distance truck drivers, dressed in vests and shorts, chat by the roadside as they discuss their options after spending five nights stranded in Mai Mahiu town.
Social distancing and wearing masks is a phenomenon to them. Motorcycle operators bring in more drivers to the trading centre, which is located 30 kilometres from Naivasha town.
A short distance away, traders and commercial sex workers sell anything and everything as the numbers of drivers, already at an estimated 300, keep rising. They are oblivious to the dangers they expose themselves to in their push to make a sale.
Along the various roads around the town, which is home to the new Inland Container Depot (ICD), tens of trucks occupy every available space as the drivers wait to get tested for Covid-19.
As a result of this situation, Mai Mahiu town has been identified as one of the virus’ hotspots, with eight cases confirmed in the last two weeks, all among truckers.
There are fears that the numbers could rise in coming weeks, as stranded drivers wait longer for their results after medics ran out of reagents. In the meantime, they interact freely with the town’s residents.
According to Nakuru’s Health executive, Kariuki Gichuki, the drivers pose a major threat to the fight against the spread of the disease.
He said the county had done its part in allocating staff to the mobile testing laboratory in Mai Mahiu, and it was the responsibility of the national government to provide the testing kits.
“At the moment, the laboratory has run out of testing kits, and this leaves residents at risk as they freely mingle with the drivers,” Gichuki added.
The CEC identified motorcycle operators and commercial sex workers as the weakest links in the spread of the disease around the busy trading centre.
“The ICD is a major blessing for this county in terms of business opportunities and revenue, but it could turn out to be a curse if the issue of the stranded drivers is not resolved urgently,” he said.
Naivasha Sub-county Commissioner Mbogo Mathioya blamed the drivers for the current virus caseload.
He said some of the truckers travelled from Mombasa without Covid-19 certificates, which has strained the limited facilities in Mai Mahiu.
“From now, any driver arriving from Mombasa without the certificate will be forced to turn back as the ICD only targets drivers coming to collect goods destined for nearby countries. The number of drivers tested every day at Mai Mahiu has doubled to 60 from 30, and this is meant to address the high turnout of persons collecting cargo from the ICD,” Mathioya said.
The commissioner added that the mobile testing laboratory had also been relocated from Mai Mahiu town to its outskirts.
“We have realised that the mobile laboratory was creating anxiety among area residents and we have moved it out of town to an area that’s convenient for the drivers,” he said.
Earlier, Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui asked residents of Mai Mahiu and Naivasha to be on high alert as the ICD could end up being an epicentre for Covid-19 cases, as transport corridors turn into weak links in curbing the spread of the disease.
“We welcome the move to open the ICD but with the high number of long-distance drivers who will arrive, we fear that this could be another source of the disease as has happened in Busia,” he said.
Kinyanjui asked residents and the drivers to observe Ministry of Health protocols.
Residents are split on the truckers’ presence, with some welcoming the new business, while others worry about the added risk of exposure to the coronavirus disease.