Aviation passengers at Entebbe International Airport have welcomed an adjustment that now allows all arriving passengers to leave the airport as soon as they are tested for COVID-19.
Uganda commenced mandatory COVID-19 testing for all arriving passengers last Wednesday, a process that requires each arriving passenger to pay USD 30 or 110,000 Shillings. But passengers would sit for close to three hours waiting for their results before they are allowed to leave the airport.
However, the Ministry of Health announced that effective November 5, passengers will be allowed to leave the airport and continue to their destinations after the test. They will then receive their results through the phone lines or emails provided at the point of registration.
Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health, told our reporter that the “swab and go” move was based on a scientific assessment of the tests done in the last five days of mandatory testing at the airport. Aceng says only 34 of the 700 passengers tested in that period were positive for COVID-19.
As a result, she says the surveillance teams can easily trace the positive passengers than holding hundreds of travellers at the airport who could instead pick the disease from the airport due to congestion.
Following the changes in the mandatory testing exercise, incoming passengers will now disembark from the aircraft, proceed to port health for assessment, and then have their swabs taken from the several booths set up at the airport. There are five booths set up for tourists and VIPs and 30 booths for the general public. It’s only after the test, that the arriving passengers can proceed to the arrivals section.
It is estimated that passengers will spend an average of 30 minutes at the airport compared to three hours and more when the mandatory testing exercise started. Some of the passengers who spoke to Uganda Radio Network-URN on Friday expressed their support for the new arrangement.
Gift Lutamu, a Ugandan returning from Cape Town, South Africa for a holiday, says she is happy about the new move, adding that she was scared to travel home after seeing hundreds of complaints from passengers who had waited for several hours at the airport.
Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health says that that was the only viable option because there was no way for the ministry to reduce the turnaround time to less than two hours as demanded by members of the parliamentary committee on health.
Atwine, however, says tracing the positive passengers will have to depend on their integrity. “It will be difficult to trace those who submit wrong phone numbers like those who arrived at the onset of the pandemic,” she says.