Some officials from Ethiopian Airlines, Fly Dubai and Emirates are concerned that some passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 or dodged taking tests at Entebbe International Airport amidst restrictions from United Arab Emirates-UAE.
The Entebbe International Airport officials say that 10 passengers have tested positive for COVID-19 on flights to the UAE this week, with three passengers also testing positive for the virus last week.
Uganda has just reinstated travel to the UAE by everyone, and the Emiratis withdrew the ban on their planes that came out last week. Uganda’s flights were cancelled in June due to a spike in the COVID-19 infection.
Uganda, however, mandates that all visitors in the country take two PCR COVID-19 tests before to departure. Before boarding, passengers must present two negative test certificates: the first should be obtained from any of the nation’s accredited testing laboratories within 48 hours of departure, and the second should be obtained from any of the nation’s accredited testing laboratories within six hours of departure.
Samples for the second test, however, must be taken at the Peniel Beach Hotel garden’s testing facility. Private laboratories, including Test and Fly, Case Hospital, and Safari Labs, conduct the testing.
Although airline officials fear that some passengers have admitted to previously failing the first test, and now claim to have negative PCR test results. To take another example, three female passengers had COVID-19 detected on their boarding passes on September 10, and were therefore prevented from boarding a 6:45pm FlyDubai flight.
The travelers sent in their negative drug test certificates, which had been provided by the MAIA Group laboratories on September 9th. “Everything was planned by their travel agents,” says one official, who also adds, “But the ladies maintained they did not take the first test.”
“Authorities are now going to interview all the people who test positive for COVID-19, as well as the laboratories that are thought to be involved, including a specific laboratory that tested two people during the week, despite their negative results, and that gave a positive diagnosis at the airport.”
“People will likely get banned from flights due to this,” a source notes.
Dr. James Eyul, the head of Port Health on behalf of the health ministry, says close to ten people intending to travel Dubai have so far tested positive for COVID-19 at the airport I a week. “But no one has tested positive on arrival in Dubai, which means our systems are working,” Eyul says.
He says asymptomatic passengers will have to wait for ten days to elapse. “They can re-book their flights and if they test negative twice, they will finally fly,” Eyul says.
However, one of the travelers says the laboratories should share the test results with travelers, instead of releasing the results only to the airlines.
“I tested negative for COVID-19 the previous day. I did not leave home. So I was shocked when at the check-in counter for Fly Dubai, the airline officials read out my name and six other names saying we would not fly because we have COVID-19.”
He says he took his first test at Case Hospital and the second one at Peniel Beach was taken by Test and Fly Laboratory.
He wants airlines to also be lenient during the pandemic by waiving the rebooking fees.
The traveler says he has spent close to shillings 3.6 million for the botched trip. He paid 400 US dollars for a 90 day tourist visa, another 470 US Dollars for a return air ticket and 450,000 Shillings for the two COVID-19 tests. He estimates to spend over shillings 800,000 on rebooking fees and the two COVID-19 tests after recovering from COVID-19.
Meseret Tstgay, the Country Manager of Ethiopian Airlines, says the airline is waiving rebooking fees for clients who will test positive for COVID-19.
“Those who test positive should first recover and then rebook their flights. There is no penalty.” Tstgay says.
However, this is a one-time off waiver.
Airlines charge between 100 to 140 US Dollars, about 350,000 to 460,000 hillings, as rebooking fees.
George Wangaya, manager of Awel Tours and Travel Ltd, says at least 20 of his clients have traveled to Dubai in one week. He however says “travelers risk contracting COVID-19 because of the congestion at Peniel Beach,” according to his observation.
Ronnie Mukundane, the spokesperson of Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies (UAERA), says migrant workers have not yet resumed flying to UAE because of the difficulty in acquiring visas. “We expect workers to start traveling end of next month.”
Uganda Airlines expects to among others carry the migrant workers to UAE once it commences Dubai flights next month. The national carrier will operate three flights a week.