Mandatory testing for all incoming passengers is expected to commence this weekend at Entebbe International Airport.
This after the Inter-ministerial committee, chaired by the Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, inspected the airport on Thursday evening to assess readiness to start the exercise.
Julius Mucunguzi, the spokesperson of the Office of the Prime Minister-OPM, says the exercise will start after it has been launched by President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni is expected to launch the exercise at 2pm today at the airport.
Mucunguzi however declined to give details about the resolutions of the committee including how the exercise will be conducted.
The Inter-ministerial committee is composed of officials from OPM, Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA, National Planning Authority-NPA, ministries of health, finance, foreign and internal affairs among others.
“The NOTAM usually takes effect after 48 hours so the earliest the exercise can kick off is Saturday night,” Dr. James Eyul, in charge of Port Health at Entebbe airport noted.
Airlines staff for FlyDubai, Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines confirmed that they have not yet received the NOTAM on commencement of the mandatory testing exercise.
The UCAA website by time of filing this story did not have the NOTAM on the commencement of the mandatory testing exercise.
Each passenger will pay 30 US Dollars, about shillings 100,000.
Another source says the committee also failed to agree on who should be regarded as a Very Important Person-VIP and also when passengers should pay for the Covid-19 tests.
“The Prime Minister Nabbanja and health minister Dr. Ruth Aceng want passengers to pay before their samples are collected while other members especially from port health proposed at the time of exit because they fear people will overcrowd the airside,” the source said.
Last week, Dr. Diana Atwine told Uganda Radio Network-URN that the government wants passengers to pay online to eliminate the use of cash at the airport. She added that the ministry of health will require airlines to submit passenger manifests so as to track those who will have dodged the Covid-19 testing on arrival.
The meeting however agreed that all incoming passengers will disembark from the aircrafts, be assessed at the Port health desk, be swabbed and then proceed to immigration booths at the current passenger terminal building. The VIPs will however move from the Port health desk and then be swabbed from the VIP lounge where they will also wait for their results.
But, a source says, “the meeting did not define who is a VIP and this could make it difficult for the team on the ground once testing starts. But we hope the President will give guidelines for this group of passengers.”
Currently VIPs are cleared by the ministry of foreign affairs and are usually diplomats and high ranking government officials.
The same source added, “But after returning from the Dubai expo early this month, the President noted that it is only tourists who should be treated as VIPs because that is what Dubai is doing. So the president says tourists must not be inconvenienced during this mandatory exercise.”
Since September 22, the government has been preparing for the mandatory testing exercise. This involved planning and releasing funds for the exercise.
Sources within the Inter-ministerial committee say a total of 78 billion shillings was allocated for implementation of the exercise for a year. This involved setting up the laboratory, sample collection and waiting areas among other items at the airport. For instance, 44billion shillings will be spent on testing kits and reagents, shillings 15 billion on completion of the arrival hall covered in the project to modify the current passenger terminal building while 4 billion shillings has been earmarked for salaries and allowances of the sixty staff at the testing centre.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces-UPDF engineering brigade completed setting up prefabricated structures at the airside to host port health and sample collection and also the waiting areas for passengers at the exit of the current passenger terminal building.
The laboratory has been equipped with seven PCR machines with a total capacity of testing 550 samples within an hour. Results are expected to be released in two hours and 15 minutes.
Tourists and very sick passengers will get their results from home or designated hotels while VIPs and other passengers will wait for their results before exiting the airport.
Travellers who will test COVID-19 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 change between 60 US Dollars and 80 US Dollars for full board services every day.
The government decided that it will takeover the mandatory testing exercise in mid-September.
This was done to address complaints of some passengers who have been undertaking mandatory testing since May. Since May, unvaccinated passengers from ten countries including Kenya, India, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates among others have been complaining about long waiting hours and high cost of the test. Moreover, some passengers said they were being issued with bogus results by one or two of the private laboratories.
The exercise has been taking place at Peniel Beach, two kilometres from Entebbe airport.