Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja has tasked a ten-member select committee comprising ten officials from the National Planning Authority-NPA, Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA, security agencies and the ministries of health and tourism to address loopholes in the COVID-19 testing procedures at Entebbe International Airport.
Nabbanja, who heads the Inter-ministerial Committee on Uganda’s COVID-19 response named the committee following her impromptu visit to the airport on Sunday ahead of the implementation of the mandatory testing for all incoming passengers expected to commence next week.
Initially, the Ministry of Health had directed that effective September 3; all incoming passengers regardless of whether or not they are vaccinated against COVID-19 should undergo the 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.
To fulfil this requirement, Nabbanja together with some of the committee members and Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng inspected the airport. Nabbanja says that the select team led by Joseph Muvawala, the Executive Director has up to Wednesday, September 15 to present a comprehensive report on the current situation and what needs to be done such as management of those who will test positive.
The team is also required to propose solutions to the inefficiencies in the testing process such as congestion at the testing site, long waiting hours, absence of communication channels for missions abroad, airlines and passengers among others.
She however says that the cabinet will make the final decision on whether or not Uganda will conduct mandatory testing for all passengers. Since May 10, passengers from ten countries including India, South Sudan, South Africa, Tanzania, and Kenya among others who are not fully vaccinated have been re-tested at Peniel Beach Gardens, a few kilometers from Entebbe Airport.
Each passenger who is eligible for the test pays 65 US Dollars (about Shillings 250,000) from the arrivals section. They also exit through a sealed path to ensure they do not mix up with the public. They board buses from the parking lot under the strict surveillance of both health workers and security officers and head to the testing site.
Figures show that the laboratories tested an average of 120 arriving passengers every day. By end of August, 18.907-targeted travellers had been tested. Of these, 697 tested positive for COVID-19. The majority had come from Kenya (186), United Arab Emirates (148), South Sudan (99) and Tanzania (70).
The health ministry had approved Test and Fly, Safari Lab and Case Hospital to conduct the tests. The test results would be released within four hours. However, some travellers say their results came after six hours. The airport handles an average of 800 arriving passengers every day. As a result, MOH has cleared three more laboratories to boost the capacity of the ones at Peniel Beach. They include Medipal Hospital, City Medicals, and Same Day Lab.
On Monday last week, the parliamentary committee on health inspected the testing centre at Peniel Beach. During the inspection, Dr. Richard Mugahi, the MOH Assistant Commissioner for Reproductive Health and the supervisor Entebbe Airport testing centre, noted that the ministry has instructed all the six private laboratories to set up testing machines at the site.
Muhangi said testing all travellers would curb the importation of variants because no one will be able to dodge the test. He said that they would also put measures in place to ensure VVIPs remain in the VVIP lounge as they wait for their results. While tourists will be handled by a tourist desk stationed at the testing site.
Their samples will be taken from the site and they can wait at the site or check into five gazetted hotels in Entebbe as they wait for their results. Travellers who will test positive will be taken to the public isolation facility at Namboole Stadium or those who opt for private facilities will be quarantined at Mowcribs Hotel in Entebbe and Kerona Dam Hotel in Kampala. These two hotels will charge between 60 US Dollars and 80 US Dollars for full board services every day.