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MPs Divided over COVID-19 Swab-and-Go Move for Aviation Passengers

At the moment all passengers are subjected to a mandatory COVID-19 test and held in a waiting area at the airport for not less than two hours after their arrival while waiting for their results. Those who test negative are allowed to continue to their destinations, while those who test positive are sent to medical facilities.
Dr. Atek Kagirita the Deputy Incident Commander for Covid-19 briefing MPs inside the airport testing lab

Audio 4

The Health Committee of Parliament is still divided over a move by the government to allow arriving passengers to leave Entebbe International Airport before getting their COVID-19 results.

At the moment all passengers are subjected to a mandatory COVID-19 test and held in a waiting area at the airport for not less than two hours after their arrival while waiting for their results. Those who test negative are allowed to continue to their destinations, while those who test positive are sent to medical facilities.

Entebbe airport handles an average of 1,100 arriving passengers every day. As a result, the health ministry has set up a laboratory with the capacity to test 548 COVID-19 samples every two hours, with a turnaround time of two and a half hours. However, hundreds have been waiting for more than three hours for the results resulting in complaints and discontent among travellers.

The Health Minister has since announced that effective November 5, passengers will be allowed to leave the airport and continue to their destinations immediately after the test, a decision which has been communicated to the Civil Aviation Authority this afternoon by Dr Henry Mwebesa, the Director-General of Health Services.

In line with the announcements, Dr Atek Kagirita, the Deputy Incident Commander for COVID-19 and the in charge of the testing laboratory at Entebbe airport says that arrangements have been made to ensure that all incoming passengers receive their test results through mobile phone numbers or email addresses provided at the point of registration.

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Between October 23 and November 3, 2021, the airport facility tested 11,449 passengers. Of these,  43 tested positive for COVID-19, giving a  0.38 per cent positivity rate. The positive passengers were coming from the USA (3) Saudi Arabia (3) Kenya (9),  11 from South Sudan and one case each from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali.

However, Kagirita says that although the infected passengers may be few, it will be dangerous if any of them has the Delta COVID-19 variant that has a high transmission rate. He says that the ministry will need funds to tighten surveillance and tracking of positive passengers.

But commitee members say that it will be costly and time-wasting for the ministry and surveillance teams to track passengers who eventually test positive for COVID-19 once they are allowed to go home. they were speaking from Entebbe after an inspection of the testing facilities set up at the airport.

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Although the Commitee contests the move, Fred Bamwesigye, the Director of the Civil Aviation Authority welcomes the move, saying says it will improve passenger experiences at the airport.

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Kwania Woman MP Hellen Auma and Dr Nicholas Kamara of Kabale Municipality acknowledge that it's inconvenient for passengers to stay at the airport in multitudes because they are likely to contract COVID-19 as a result of the congestion at the sample collection areas.

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However, Health Health CommitteeCommitee chairperson  Joel Ssebikali says that if the ministry insists on releasing passengers without their results, then it should not ask for additional funding for tracing and contact tracing.