Scores of Bolivian lorry drivers and their vehicles were reported Monday to be stranded on the Chilean border at Tambo Quemado after at least 200 of them tested positive for COVID-19. They claim they had departed with negative PCR tests from 72 hours before the beginning of their journeys. The border crossing now is closed and snow is falling.
According to a driver quoted by Página Siete, of the 60 trucks that entered the premises in one day, only five managed to get through, while the rest tested positive for COVID-19. The witness also believed around 10% of the trucks have been able to drive on.
The Bolivian government has sent a medical team Tuesday. Around 90% of truckers were forced to return to Bolivia after testing positive at the Chilean health post, but the Bolivian drivers insist these tests are faulty. Truckers carrying export cargo to the port of Arica, get tested in Bolivia, but Chilean health authorities carry out antigen tests again. “It is not possible that, out of every ten road workers, nine test positive if they are vaccinated,” lamented one Bolivian lorry driver who insisted the nasal swabs used by Chilean sanitary teams must be outdated.
Bolivia's Vice Minister of Foreign Trade, Benjamín Blanco, said that on Tuesday a sanitary brigade would arrive at two border crossings with Chile to test drivers while the government takes diplomatic steps with its Chilean counterpart to overcome the conflict.
The situation has been complicated due to the cold and heavy snowfalls in that region over 4,000 meters ASL.
More than 75% of Bolivian exports leave through two ports in northern Chile. In recent years disagreements between customs of the two countries have been recurrent since Bolivia lost a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice in 2018 to obtain from Chile a corridor to the sea in compensation for the maritime coast lost after a war in the late 19th century.
Both nations do not maintain diplomatic relations and tension is frequent between both countries. Bolivia also shares borders with Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Peru.
Although the presence of the Omicron variant has not been confirmed, Bolivia is currently facing a rebound in infections which the authorities foresee will peak at the end of the year.
A total of 19,459 people have died from the virus while the vaccination that is carried out for those over five years of age is in 58% of the planned population, according to the Ministry of Health.