Punish Fake Covid-19 Certificates Scammers

Zimbabwe has built a good name in public health circles for the way it has contained Covid-19 infections and the steps it has taken to quarantine sick people coming into Zimbabwe and for preventing our sick people from infecting other countries and those who might be sharing their bus or plane.

While the country boasts of such success stories, some corrupt elements in the health sector are now pulling in the opposite direction, and taking bribes for handing out Covid-19 test certificates.

This week, we carried an investigative story exposing how staff at two public hospitals and laboratories in Harare and Chitungwiza are demanding bribes for issuing out Covid-19 test certificates to people without conducting any tests.

They are charging between US$20 and US$40 to issue Covid-19 certificates to individuals, who need them for international travel.

The corrupt syndicates at Chitungwiza Central Hospital and Harare’s Sally Mugabe Hospital involve laboratory staff, nurses and security guards at health facilities who then split the bribes.

Most institutions charge around US$65 for the required PCR test for Covid-19, a test that is required within 48 hours before leaving the country by road or air.

But to avoid the inconvenience or cutting costs travellers have resorted to paying US$20 bribes to health staff in order to be issued with a fraudulent certificate showing they tested negative to Covid-19.

This will backfire.

The decision to allow people to be tested within a couple of days before leaving was to make it more convenient.

But if other countries decide that a Zimbabwean test certificate is a piece of junk, then our travellers are going to be tested and quarantined on arrival at their foreign destinations, at their cost.

If this starts, then we might be able to maintain our reputation and the inconvenience for our travellers by having properly monitored testing facilities at airports and border posts. Everyone leaving having to factor in a wait of perhaps five hours while the queue for the test and then wait for the results.

And all because some people want to cheat and some health workers want money on the side.

According to the Zimbabwean regulations following World Health Organisation guidelines, travellers must produce a PCR Covid-19 clearance certificate issued by a recognised health facility within 48 hours before leaving the country.

Cross-border traders, job-seekers and those desperate for cheaper certificates are the major clients of these corrupt syndicates.

The fraud needs to be further investigated by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, police and other independent anti-graft investigators.

The media played its role, exposing the corruption but thorough disciplinary and criminal investigations should now be instituted to end the lawlessness.

It boggles the mind how a nurse, trained in the health field, is caught up in such dirty scams.

Such misrepresentation puts the whole country at risk, especially when sick people are certified to be healthy.

The chain of risk of infection among the public can be devastating and such perpetrators are guilty of a heinous crime and must be charged.

Fraud is a serious offence that attracts a maximum sentence of 20 years in terms of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, which is deterrent enough under the given circumstances.

The charges can be preferred on both the traveller and originator of the certificate.

The US$65 charged for PCR tests is high.

These tests are not cheap for a start, and then there is the mark-up that a private clinic is allowed to add on.

Government laboratories could provide a cost-recovery test for travellers, but again the bribery mess needs to be cleaned up first before such tests become accepted. Another way of curbing the rot is to record all tests conducted and the names of the individuals thereof, in a national database system accessible by relevant authorities at ports of exit.

The actual entry into the database would have to be backed by a real tested sample, and proper monitoring of the data entry.

If one does not appear on the database, authorities will have to scrutinise his or her papers for possible prosecution.

That helps to easily detect all fake Covid-19 documents.

Government can also introduce a bar-code tracking system for all certificates issued in order to ensure that only genuine people are allowed to travel.

Sister countries need to share such information at ports entry.

The problem of fake Covid-19 clearance certificates is not only peculiar to Zimbabwe.

Other countries in Africa are battling with the same challenge.

Recently, Mozambican authorities opened a probe into allegations that some people are selling fake Covid-19 certificates to enable travellers to cross the country’s border with South Africa.

Maputo provincial health director Mr Daniel Chemane was recently quoted saying his office had received information that some individuals were selling fake negative Covid-19 results near Ressano Garcia border post to people wanting to travel to South Africa.

“We will work on ways of identification and authentication to make the test results more reliable,” said Mr Chemane.

Both Mozambique and South Africa require that visitors from other countries present medical certificates showing that they are free from Covid-19.

The certificates should have been taken within 72 hours of travel. Ressano Garcia border post border has been a hive of activities since October 1 when South Africa and Mozambique reopened that post following the easing if Covid-19 restrictions.

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