The busy atmosphere that has been characteristic of the Douala Port Platform has not been dampened by the advent of the global Coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, there is a huge difference between what used to be and what now is: the level of the sanitation measures currently being implemented is very drastic. The port receives an average of 10,000 clients daily and given the nature of the activities which these individuals come to undertake therein, the location can rapidly become an epicentre for disease propagation. That is why the management of the Port Authority of Douala (PAD) has opted to go on the offensive and take the fight against Covid-19, to rapidly transform the hygiene and sanitation culture of the place. From obligatory hand-washing, to the wearing of personnel protective equipment (such as gloves, face masks and robes), to the using of Thermo-Flash devices (to instantly detect possible Covid-19 carriers by measuring the body temperature of anyone who enters the premises) and the scaling down of many administrative activities that could have constituted bottlenecks in the past, the people at the Douala Port Platform can really be said to be on top of their game, as they strive to keep both workers and clients healthy while ensuring that the economy of the country does not get halted.
Even before the Government’s March 17th stringent measures to fight against the coronavirus were made public, the General Manager of the Port Authority of Douala, Cyrus Ngo’o, had begun mobilising members of the Cameroon Port Community against the coronavirus. Through meetings, communiqués and workshops, the PAD boss moved to raise awareness on the need to apply diverse measures of prevention at the various work departments. When the Government’s instructions came, it was to meet an already active machine of preventive fight against the virus, to which was added the suspension of all ship-related activities (with the exception of cargo vessels transporting consumers’ products, essential goods and vital materials), and the reduction of stop-over time (which is now limited and highly supervised). To this effect, Cyrus Ngo’o, has reorganised activities at the Port Platform for the good health of everybody while ensuring that there is no scarcity of essential products.
At the entrance of every building, security agents have been positioned to ensure that nobody goes in without having their hands washed with antibacterial soap. This is in addition to the hand sanitizer at each door that is accompanied by the message: “everybody must disinfect hands before entering”. On top of these, the security staff is equipped with Thermo-Flash devices to gauge everybody’s temperature. The practice of “Social distancing” between persons has been reinforced and physical meetings (permitted only for the most unavoidable circumstances) substituted with teleconferencing. Different sectors within the port community have created Anti Covid-19 committees to make sure that instructions put in place by port administration are effectively applied.
The Ships and The Goods
A Service Note, signed by the General Manager of the Port Authority lays down instructions on how going forward the accosting of ships should be done, the conditions for handling the ship’s crew, parameters for gaining access to the ship and the procedures for off-loading of goods. Since then, the Harbour Master, Abdoul Hakim, has been on all fronts ensuring that measures to curb the Covid-19 outbreak are fully respected. He explains that: “Before a ship is allowed to accost at the port, it must have observed 14 days of quarantine at the Base Buoy, which is some 25 kilometres into the sea”, he said. Following this, he added the ship undergoes a screening by health officials in conformity with international standards and the World Health Organisation’s recommendations, to eradicate all suspicions of any sick persons aboard the vessel. It is after then that the ship is issued a Certificate of Free Practice. Harbour staff have been encouraged to work using electronic platforms such as WhatsApp and Skype. If workers must gather for any meeting, they should not be more than 50 persons in a hall and everybody must be wearing a face mask and hand gloves, while respecting social distancing of 1.5m in their sitting positions.”
From March 17th, when the decision to close sea borders was taken by the Government, some 18 ships have accosted at the port under stringent security and sanitary measures. According to Abdoul Hakim, this continuing movement of ships in and out of the Douala Port is necessary not only to protect the population against Covid- 19, but also to sustain the lifeline of the economy. “Let us not forget that the Covid-19 virus is not the only killer; Hunger kills too. So let us strive to not swap one for the other…”, Abdoul Hakim underscored.