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Airlines protest as UAE-bound passengers dodge COVID-19 tests

Tests a must at Entebbe

Entebbe, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Some officials from Ethiopian Airlines, Fly Dubai and Emirates are concerned that some passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 or dodged taking tests at Entebbe International Airport amidst restrictions from United Arab Emirates-UAE.

The officials say much as less than 50 people are traveling ON any single flight daily to UAE, ten passengers have so far tested positive for COVID-19 since Monday at Entebbe while three tested positive last week.

Last week, the UAE lifted the ban on flights from Uganda for all categories of travelers.  The country banned flights from Uganda in June due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.

The country however requires each traveler to take two PCR COVID-19 tests before departing from Uganda.  Travelers must present two negative test certificates, one issued 48 hours to the flight by any of the accredited testing laboratories in the country and the second one must be issued within six hours to departure time.

Samples for the second test must however be taken from the airport testing centre at Peniel Beach Hotel gardens. The testing is carried out by private laboratories Test and Fly, Case Hospital and Safari Labs.

But airline officials are concerned that some of the air bound passengers have confessed that they dodged the first test and yet they presented negative PCR test results from some of the accredited laboratories.  For instance, three female passengers tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept 10 and were blocked from boarding the 6:45pm FlyDubai flight.

The passengers presented negative test result certificates that were issued by MAIA Group labs on Sept 9. “But the ladies said they did not take the first test and everything was arranged by their travel agents,” one of the officials says.

Another source noted, “Port Health workers should start interviewing the people who test COVID-19 positive and also investigate the laboratories including a specific laboratory from where two travelers turned up during the week with negative results but tested positive at the airport.”

“This is not a good sign because people could end up testing positive in Dubai and UAE bans flights again,” the same source says.

Dr. James Eyul, the head of Port Health on behalf of the health ministry, says close to ten people intending to travel Dubai have so far tested positive for COVID-19 at the airport i  a week. “But no one has tested positive on arrival in Dubai, which means our systems are working,” Eyul says.

He says asymptomatic passengers will have to wait for ten days to elapse. “They can re-book their flights and if they test negative twice, they will finally fly,” Eyul says.

However, one of the travelers says the laboratories should share the test results with travelers, instead of releasing the results only to the airlines.

“I tested negative for COVID-19 the previous day. I did not leave home. So I was shocked when at the check-in counter for Fly Dubai, the airline officials read out my name and six other names saying we would not fly because we have COVID-19.”

He says he took his first test at Case Hospital and the second one at Peniel Beach was taken by Test and Fly Laboratory.

He wants airlines to also be lenient during the pandemic by waiving the rebooking fees.

The traveler says he has spent close to shillings 3.6 million for the botched trip. He paid 400 US dollars for a 90 day tourist visa, another 470 US Dollars for a return air ticket and 450,000 Shillings for the two COVID-19 tests. He estimates to spend over shillings 800,000 on rebooking fees and the two COVID-19 tests after recovering from COVID-19.

Meseret  Tstgay, the Country Manager of Ethiopian Airlines, says the airline is waiving rebooking fees for clients who will test positive for COVID-19.

“Those who test positive should first recover and then rebook their flights. There is no penalty.”Tstgay says.

However, this is a one-time off waiver.

Airlines charge between 100 to 140 US Dollars, about 350,000 to 460,000 hillings, as rebooking fees.

George Wangaya, manager of Awel Tours and Travel Ltd, says at least 20 of his clients have traveled to Dubai in one week.  He however says “travelers risk contracting COVID-19 because of the congestion at Peniel Beach,” according to his observation.

Ronnie Mukundane, the spokesperson of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), says migrant workers have not yet resumed flying to UAE because of the difficulty in acquiring visas. “We expect workers to start traveling end of next month.”

Uganda Airlines expects to among others carry the migrant workers to UAE once it commences Dubai flights next month. The national carrier will operate three flights a week.

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