Friday, 29th September 2023

Air travellers seek review of COVID-19 test as UK removes all protocols

By Wole Oyebade
16 March 2022   |   3:16 am
Aviation stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to review mandatory COVID-19 test requirements to ease the burden of cost and lift artificial barriers to air connectivity.

[FILE]Travellers walk through Terminal 2 at Heathrow Airport, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in London, Britain February 14, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls//File Photo

Aviation stakeholders have urged the Federal Government to review mandatory COVID-19 test requirements to ease the burden of cost and lift artificial barriers to air connectivity.

The fresh call is coming on the heels of the United Kingdom’s policy to suspend all COVID-19 protocols by Friday. Findings showed that Nigeria remains one of the few countries yet to review or scale down the cost of COVID-19, though for commercial reasons rather than public health.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that scientific evidence no longer supports the safety objectives of pre-departure COVID-19 tests for all travellers. Same for blanket quarantine, self-isolation at destinations, coupled with travel bans in some parts of the world.

Travel expert at Dart Logistics Limited, Yinka Ladipo, yesterday reckoned that the mandatory COVID-19 test protocol has outlived its usefulness, and is no longer helpful for the sector and the economy at large.

Ladipo, who is the publicity secretary of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), said even before the likes of UK that was worst-hit by the pandemic, Nigeria should have drastically reduce the cost of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, if eradicating the guideline is far-fetched.

“What we have is that they have turned the protocol to a commercial venture and those benefiting will not want it to end. The UK has a more complicated rate of infections. When last was any positive case recorded in Nigeria? I have not heard of any lately.

“So, one expects that the government should have dropped the cost to about N10, 000 because the high charges only made travel very expensive. Several African countries have reduced the rate. Nigeria taking off N5000 is nothing at all.

“We need to be more innovative instead of mounting unnecessary costs on travellers. High airfare is not helping our economy. There are a lot of people that want to come into our country but the cost of multiple COVID-19 tests is a put-off,” Ladipo said.

The British government, yesterday, said all remaining coronavirus measures for travellers, including passenger locator forms and the requirement that unvaccinated people be tested for COVID-19 before and after their arrivals, will end Friday to make going on holiday easier for the Easter school vacation.

Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said the changes would mean people “can travel just like in the good old days.” The news was welcomed by U.K. airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, which said they are beginning to ease mask wearing requirements on some routes.

The announcement came as coronavirus infections were rising in all four parts of the U.K. — England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — for the first time since the end of January. The latest government figures released Monday showed that there were more than 444,000 new cases recorded in the past seven days, up 48 per cent from the week before.

IATA noted that the impact of the costs of COVID-19 testing on family travel is even more severe. Based on average ticket prices of $200 for domestic travel and average low-end PCR testing ($90) twice each way, a journey for four that would have cost $1,600 pre-COVID could nearly double to $3,040—with $1440 being testing costs.

IATA’s Director-General, Willie Walsh, had said the experience of Omicron made it clear that travel restrictions have little to no impact in terms of preventing its spread.

“Moreover, as Omicron is already broadly present across the U.S., fully vaccinated travellers bring no extra risk to the local population. International travellers should face no additional screening requirements than what is applied to domestic travel.

“In fact, at this stage of the pandemic, travel should be managed in the same way as access to shopping malls, restaurants or offices,” Walsh said.