• October 24th, 2020

‘I did not spread corona’… truck driver endures virus stigma

The Walvis Bay truck driver who was among the first residents at the harbour town to test positive for the fast-spreading Covid-19 feels he is being shunned, unfairly blamed and accused of spreading the virus. Speaking out against Covid-19 stigma and victimisation by society, the truck driver said he is mentally affected by some of the hurtful comments. “I have been accused of spreading the virus in Walvis Bay, despite the fact that I was in isolation since I came back from South Africa.  I am hurt by the public’s comments accusing me of bringing corona to Walvis Bay. Now a 10-year-old child is dragged into this whole mess. I don’t even have a 10-year-old daughter and my wife is at the village. 

“Even the person people say I cheated with, I don’t know her and I never met her,” said the trucker.
The truck driver’s identity is being withheld in order to protect him from further victimisation. Truck drivers, who have been transporting essential goods across borders, have been hailed as unsung heroes of the pandemic. However, they have been stigmatised by some members of society and are often treated like they have already contracted the virus.

The truck driver and a co-worker were fired for apparently breaching quarantine regulations. He maintains that they were allowed to visit banks, doctors and asked to deliver their trucks to the workshop and never snuck out of quarantine.  The duo were quarantined in their trucks at FP du Toit and went jogging on 12 May around the industrial area when they were recalled to the depot.
“While jogging just metres away from our trucks, we received a call that health officers were  looking for us at the company premises where we were quarantined.  We went back immediately as we were just nearby,” lamented the distressed truck driver.  “The health inspectors asked if we had gone home to our families.  They even went to our homes and interviewed our relatives who also confirmed that they had not seen us since our return.”

He has pleaded with fellow coastal residents to stop spreading malicious and hurtful comments about him and his fellow truck drivers. Edward Shivute from the Walvis Bay Corridor Group (WBCG) said there was a misperception about cross-border truck drivers and Covid-19. “However we need to look at the data available and we need to implement strategies that will reduce the stigma attached to our drivers,” said Shivute.
He appealed to Namibians to desist from stigmatising truck drivers. 

“There are facts, perceptions, and people’s opinions. The facts show us that a very low percentage of truck drivers are currently infected with Covid-19 compared to the general population. If we have to use data to make a decision, then our truck drivers are not among those classified as high risk. It is only due to the nature of their work that they are viewed as high risk,” he explained.
Shivute emphasised that truck drivers are consistently screened and medically tested at facilities such as the temporary truck port in Walvis Bay.
He warned that under  such duress truck drivers could develop mental illnesses as they are already not seeing their families as they have to go immediately into quarantine upon arrival.

“We need to keep in mind that they are on the road for our daily needs not because they want to, especially during this time of coronavirus. The essence is that we need to appreciate what our drivers are doing – risking their lives just to make sure that we have the goods we need,” he said.
Justice minister Yvonne Dausab on Monday also warned against stigmatising the people of Walvis Bay, including truck drivers.  
“Members of the public should not stigmatise people from Walvis Bay and truck drivers, especially because of the situation we find ourselves in. To stigmatise or discriminate against people because of the situation in which they find themselves is not appropriate,” she said. -edeklerk@nepc.com.na

Eveline de Klerk
2020-06-25 09:25:36 | 3 months ago

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