Passengers interviewed want only travelers arriving from Omicron-risk countries to wait for their results at Entebbe airport, because of the increase in the number of arriving travelers ahead of the festive season.
(L-R) Lt.Col.Dr.Henry Kyobe the COVID-19 Incident Commander, health minister Dr.Jane Ruth Aceng, the health ministry PS Dr.Diana Atwine and Dr.Isaac Ssewanyana incharge of Entebbe Airport Lab. Courtsey Photo
The government has not yet announced any new measures at Entebbe International Airport and other border points to contain Omicron, the newly discovered Covid-19 variant from Southern Africa.
Some other countries like the US and UK have started travel restrictions due to concerns that the new variant could be more infectious than the Delta variant that sparked a rise in number of cases globally this year. The Delta variant sparked the second wave of Covid-19 infections mid-year in Uganda, resulting in an average of 1,000 cases daily and at some 20 deaths every day.
Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the spokesperson for the ministry of Health says the government for now maintains the status quo of testing all incoming passengers at the airport.
The mandatory testing exercise commenced last month for all arriving passengers, regardless of one's vaccination status. The test costs 30 US Dollars, about 110,000 shillings.
Initially passengers, except tourists and VIPs, would depart the airport after receiving their test results. But due to congestion at the terminal and waiting areas, the health ministry commenced the "swab and go" measure after a week of the exercise. As a result passengers leave the airport and get their results on email or Whatsapp.
Ainebyoona says the "swab and go" measure is still being observed at the airport. He adds that the public should continue wearing face masks, avoid crowds, and get vaccinated against Covid-19 among other precautionary measures.
He however says the health minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng will address the nation over this variant and likely measures the country will implement to contain its spread on Wednesday this week.
Sources at Uganda Airlines are also waiting for these measures to determine if they will continue operating flights to Johannesburg.
The national carrier operates four flights weekly to Johannesburg.
"With the festive season nearing, the flights are fully booked because many Ugandans love traveling to South Africa for the holidays while many Ugandans return home in the same season," a frequent traveler and official in the airline says, "So these travel bans are not good at all."
Some passengers have expressed concern about Uganda not setting up new measures at the airport.
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Others passengers want travelers from only Omicron-risk countries to wait for their results at Entebbe airport because of the increase in the number of arriving travelers ahead of the festive season.
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But as passengers and the general public wait for a response from the Ugandan government, other countries in the region and beyond are racing to contain the spread of Covid-19 by imposing travel bans as a precautionary measure against the Omicron variant.
On November 25, the World Health Organization-WHO labelled Omicron a variant of concern. This was after researchers in South Africa reported about it to WHO on November 24.
The first case of the variant was identified by South African researchers on November 9. Belgium, Israel and Botswana also detected first cases of the new variant.
According to the World Health Organization-WHO, most viruses – including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 – evolve over time. When a virus replicates or makes copies of itself, it sometimes changes a little bit, which is normal for a virus. These changes are called “mutations”. Any virus with one or more new mutations can be referred to as a “variant” of the original virus.
WHO says preliminary results show that the Omicron variant has more than 30 mutations.
WHO named the variant after the Greek ketter, saying preliminary evidence that the variant shows it is more transmissible than the Delta variant that is currently dominant world-wide, and other virus strains.
However, WHO says it is too early to determine the exact effects of the variant's multiple mutations and that studies are going on to ascertain the threat it poses to the available vaccines.
However, the UN agency has urged countries to go slow in imposing travel bans against southern Africa countries.
But the United States of America, United Kingdom, Canada, Egypt have suspended flights from eight countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Malawi, Eswatini,Lesotho and Namibia.
Israel has banned all flights for a fortnight while Japan and Rwanda have reinstated mandatory quarantine for all incoming passengers.
Kenya and Tanzania have issued statements saying authorities will increase screening and surveillance at border points.
Apart from the travel bans, mandatory quarantine and increased screening, governments across the world are also urging their citizens to get vaccinated against Covid-19.
Scientists want to find out whether or not coronavirus antibodies from either vaccines and natural infection can protect individuals against Omicron variant.
Cases So far
Cases of the variant have so far been reported in eleven countries including South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, United Kingdom and Germany. Other are Denmark, Czech Republic, Australia, Hong Kong, Canada and the Netherlands.
On Sunday, November 28, Canada reported two cases of the variant from two passengers who had recently returned from Nigeria. Canada now doesn't allow in any passengers who have also been in one of the eight Southern Africa countries in the last 14 days.