Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Some of the workers of Fly Dubai and Emirates want the government to test passengers traveling to the United Arab Emirates to address the increasing number of forged COVID-19 test certificates and delayed release of results by some of the private laboratories.
The workers who spoke on condition of anonymity are concerned that some passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 or dodged taking tests in the past three weeks at Entebbe International Airport amidst restrictions from United Arab Emirates-UAE.
The airline officials say at least ten passengers test positive for COVID-19 every week and yet their 48 hour test certificates indicated that they were negative. “Most of the people who test positive say they did not undertake the first test but they paid certain private laboratories to issue them negative certificates. So we think government should help us test these passengers because the country’s image is at stake.”
UAE is the key gateway for Ugandan migrant workers who travel daily in the range of 300 to 500 to the Middle East.
Early this month, 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 and also reports that over 100 travelers from Uganda had tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival.
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 and Safari Labs.
But airline officials are concerned that some of the 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 10th and were blocked from boarding the 6:45 pm FlyDubai flight.
Apart from dodging tests, airlines are concerned about the turnaround time for the six-hour test.
On September 13th, 96 passengers intending to travel to UAE aboard Emirates missed their flight because their results were released after the check-in gates had been closed. The gates are open from 1 pm to 3 pm. As a result, passengers must ensure they have both test certificates by the time they check-in at the airport.
To get results early, passengers flock Peniel Beach from as early as 7 am to secure the first 50 slots that are tested between 9 am and 11 am and results are released by midday.
Some of the passengers including Adella Nabirye, aged 30 years, say there is a need for the private laboratories to increase the number of testing machines and also sample collection officials because an average of a hundred people turn up daily for testing.
Nabirye says she woke up at 6 am so that she could depart from her home in Kasangati, Gayaza by 8 am. She arrived in Entebbe at 11 am and says her results were released after 4 pm, just in time for check-in at FlyDubai. FlyDubai check-in gate is open from 3-6 pm. She was able to check-in by 4pm.
Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary at the ministry of health says passengers have been complaining of the high cost of the test at shillings 250,000 and also long waiting hours. As a result, the government will take over mandatory testing for all arriving passengers next week. She however says the ministry has not got any communication from airlines asking the government to also test passengers traveling to UAE.
The government plans to set up a testing centre for incoming passengers at the airport. The exercise is expected to start next week.
Last week, Dr. Richard Mugahi, the MOH Assistant Commissioner for Reproductive Health, and the supervisor of Entebbe Airport testing centre told the media that the ministry is installing five PCR machines in the airport laboratory.
The machines have the capacity of testing 300 samples per hour. As a result, the laboratory can test 3,600 travelers in 12 hours and 7,200 travelers in 24 hours.
An official from Emirates says that there is a need for the government to streamline testing of travelers at the airport to protect the integrity of the country’s image. “If this issue of not addressed, we might be banned again because some travelers are testing positive on arrival in UAE yet they traveled with two negative COVID-19 test result certificates,” the official says.