The move is one of the strategies Dr. Atwine told our reporter that the ministry plans to implement as a result of identifying loopholes in the current exercise of testing only unvaccinated passengers from ten countries namely India, South Sudan, Kenya, United Arab Emirates and Tanzania.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, Dr. Diana Atwine says that the ministry will compare data of arriving passengers tested at the government laboratory with the passenger manifests provided by airlines to look out for people who skip the mandatory COVID-19 testing at Entebbe International Airport.
The move is one of the strategies Dr. Atwine told Uganda Radio Network (URN) that the ministry plans to implement as a result of identifying loopholes in the current exercise of testing.
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In May, 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 US (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.
However, Dr. Atwine says the ministry has been receiving information that some eligible passengers are dodging the tests.
In August, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni directed that soldiers should be deployed at the airport to supervise the medics and private laboratories that are involved in assessing and testing incoming passengers.
However, sources say some passengers beat the system, by bribing medical workers at the port health desk and soldiers at the exit of the arrivals section, parking lot and at Peniel Beach.
Sources, who preferred anonymity, say they witnessed some passengers bribing medics and soldiers at the airport and the beach. They say some of the people who dodge the tests are ordinary passengers while others seemed to have connections at the airport because some of them would simply by-pass the medical workers and would not be stopped or checked.
“We were about 50 passengers on a Uganda Airlines flight from Nairobi on July 13th and some people paid bribes to skip the tests. Even at Peniel Beach, I realized later that 5 people paid an extra 100,000 shillings so that they get their results in less than two hours," said a source who didnot want to be named.
The source adds that he saw two passengers, who had yellow stickers, paying 50 US dollars and 100 US Dollars to the medical worker who was assessing travelers at the exit of the arrivals section.
Another traveler says a man paid two soldiers 200 US Dollars at the entrance of the parking lot so that he and his family of five children and spouse dodge the tests by not boarding the buses. “These people left the airport without being tested,” the source adds," said the source.
Dr. Atwine however hopes that the ministry will be able to identify those who will dodge the mandatory tests that are expected to start next week. Mandatory testing was initially expected to start on September 3. But it has been postponed twice.
However, sources involved in the of the inter-ministerial committee that is in charge of the exercise say the government might push the commencement date to the second week of October to ensure every aspect of the exercise is fool-proof.
Early in the week, the Inter-ministerial committee composed of officials from ministries of finance, works and transport, health and Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA finalised on the locations for the laboratory, sample collection booths, waiting for areas and flow of passengers right from when they disembark from the aircraft until they exit the airport.
The UPDF Engineering Brigade personnel are currently setting up prefabricated structures at the airside. The structures will house the Port Health desk and sample collection units so that all passengers test before heading to the immigration booths.
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.
According to sources the committee needs at least 7 days to complete these works and modifications because the machines have not yet been installed inside the government laboratory that is also yet to be set up on the second floor of the extension block at the passenger terminal building. Tents for passengers waiting for their test results have also not yet been erected. These tents will be erected adjacent to the exit of the arrivals section.