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Government to spend UGX 70Bn setting up Covid-19 testing center at Entebbe airport

All incoming passengers at Entebbe International Airport are set to be subjected to mandatory Covid-19 testing. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The government could spend close to Shillings 70 billion to set up and operate the testing centre for arriving passengers at Entebbe International Airport. Mandatory Covid-19 testing for all in-bound passengers is expected to commence next week.

Initially, the Ministry of Health had proposed that effective September 3, all incoming passengers regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated against COVID-19 should undergo mandatory testing at Entebbe Airport. However, on September 2, the inter-ministerial committee postponed the exercise by two weeks to ensure passengers are tested with minimum inconveniences.

Last week, President Yoweri Museveni postponed the commencement of the exercise by another two weeks during a televised address on Wednesday. Sources involved in the planning meetings of the inter-ministerial committee that is in charge of the exercise say that the government plans to spend Shillings 70 billion on setting up the laboratory, sample collection and waiting areas among other items at the airport.

Shillings 15 billion is meant for the establishment and equipping of the laboratory while Shillings 40 billion will cater for its operations and consumables such as reagents. Last week, personnel from the Uganda People’s Defence Forces-UPDF Engineering Brigade visited the airport to assess the possible location for the laboratory, tents for sample collection and waiting areas for the incoming passengers.

The balance of Shillings 15 billion has been allocated to the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA, to complete the construction of the extension to the passenger terminal. The Inter-ministerial committee chaired by Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja is however still discussing where to set up the testing centre at the airport.

But some of the proposals include setting up a laboratory on the second floor of the extension block at the passenger terminal building, which is still incomplete, while waiting tents for passengers for their test results will be erected adjacent to the exit of the arrivals section.

Some sources say the government wants to also set up a port health desk and tents for sample collection at the airside so that all passengers test before heading to the immigration booths. At the port health desk, very sick passengers and VVIPs will be tested first followed by tourists and other passengers.

Very sick passengers and tourists will be allowed to depart the airport and will get their results either from home or at designated hotels. With a daily average of 1,100 incoming passengers at the airport, sources say the inter-ministerial committee wants the centre at the airport to release results in less than two hours.

Last week, Dr. Richard Mugahi, the MOH Assistant Commissioner for Reproductive Health and the supervisor 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 travellers in 12 hours and 7,200 travellers in 24 hours. Vianney Luggya, the spokesperson of UCAA, however says discussions are still ongoing. “So, whatever you have is not conclusive,” he told our reporter.

He says that the inter-ministerial committee is still discussing the locations for the laboratory, waiting areas and mode of payment of the 30 USD for the tests. Some of the proposals include passengers paying for the tests before arriving at the airport, paying using Visa cards, through the bank or mobile money on landing.

Dr. Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Health says that the government has not yet finalised how the testing centre will be operated and other related matters.

Luggya says that as the government prepares for the mandatory testing, private laboratories will continue testing arriving passengers from selected countries. Since May, only passengers from ten countries that include India, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates among others have been subjected to mandatory testing if they are not fully vaccinated.

The health ministry approved Test and Fly and Safari Lab to test arriving passengers at Peniel Beach gardens, almost two kilometres away from the airport. Each passenger who is eligible for the test pays US$ 65 (about Shillings 250,000) from the arrivals section.

They exit through a sealed path to ensure they do not mix up with the general public. They are thereafter asked to board buses from the parking lot, under the strict surveillance of both health workers and security officers. The buses then take the passengers to the testing centre at Peniel Beach.



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