Argentine truckers stranded at Chilean border by slow COVID testing

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Parked trucks are pictured during a protest against new Chilean entry protocols to the country, that demand all drivers test negative for coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Argentine border with Chile, in Uspallata, Mendoza, Argentina January 28, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Maximiliano Rios

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Jan 29 (Reuters) - Thousands of truck drivers from Argentina were stuck at the Chilean border on Saturday due to slow COVID-19 testing, as Chile faced its second transport delay crisis.

Since Jan. 21, more than 3,000 trucks have been stranded at the customs checkpoint of Cristo Redentor in Mendoza, according to the Argentinean Federation of Business Entities for Cargo Transport (FADEEAC).

The long wait has put both drivers and some of the trucks to the test, as trucks with refrigerator units must stay running at all times to keep the cargos at cold temperatures.

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"This is becoming a real problem," said Brazilian truck driver Junior Cesar, whose truck is parked in Uspallata, Argentina, near the Chilean border. "The engines are running day and night and they’re starting to fail and affect the cargo."

Frustrated drivers waited by their trucks, cooking and sharing whatever food they could buy. They showered using buckets of water or a bathroom nearby that charges 300 Argentine pesos ($3) per use.

"I’ve been here for two weeks," said Ruben Soza, a truck driver from Mendoza. "I have a refrigeration unit as you can see, with garlic, and the gasoline is not enough to run the refrigeration unit."

A similar problem has occurred at Chile's northern border in the Tambo Quemado mountain pass, where drivers from Bolivia too face long waits in line for COVID-19 testing.

The FADEEAC has asked Argentina’s foreign ministry to intervene and try to prevent further delays and minimize the economic losses, which according to FADEEAC estimates add up to $700 a day.

On Friday, Chile’s health ministry reported 26,727 new COVID-19 cases. Argentina reported 63,884.

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Reporting by Juan Bustamante; writing by Diane Craft; editing by Grant McCool

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