Aviators rally behind COVID-19 rapid tests at airports
•Discourage fresh ban on flights
Aviation stakeholders have cautioned the Federal Government against imposing a fresh ban on international flights as part of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 new strain.
As an alternative, the aviators urged the government to give priority to on-arrival rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers at the nation’s entry ports.
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had in the week begun the implementation of new guidelines for travellers coming from South Africa and the United Kingdom, where the new strain has been discovered.
The Senate Committee on Aviation also hinted that the FG was considering a complete ban on flights coming from the two countries, among others.
A member of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Olumide Ohunayo, said he was not in support of another ban on foreign flights as long as the guidelines set by the NCAA were still adhered to.
Ohunayo said what the government lately did was to increase surveillance and strict observation of passengers.
“The protocols are still the same. That of the United Kingdom and South Africa is 96 hours. You are also required to have a fly permit. Although people are clamouring for a total ban of flights, I am not in support of the total ban. In order to ensure that the airlines comply, an additional fine of $3,500 has been imposed on airlines on each passenger that violates the protocol. I think these guidelines are good for now and we have to increase surveillance,” he said.
Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said Nigeria had been on this path at the onset of the pandemic. “Often, we take a knee jerk or copycat approach rather than making an effort to take initiatives that are original to us. Why not behave the way the South Koreans and Chinese did? (We should) be original.
“We may restrict other nationals, but can we refuse our nationals from returning home especially during a national celebration season as Christmas or any of the Eids? My suggestions were modified from what I said earlier in March; redistribute all the foreign airlines to the four or five international airports, and none of them must go to more than once in the four or five except those from the same country like British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
“We have about 30 foreign airlines coming to Nigeria. It, therefore, means each of the international airports would be having six foreign airlines flights. The aim is to be able to effectively and efficiently test, trace and track any infected passenger. Each airport must have testing centres and adequate skilled manpower in sufficient numbers to do the testing 24 hours at the airports for the arriving Nigerian nationals.
“We do not expect many nationals of other countries to be trooping now out of their countries into ours. We can ban those except in essential government demands. My worry about possible government ban on foreign airlines is to begin creating suspects in another approval for evacuation flights that give corrupt earnings to the foreign airlines and government officials in the embassies and the ministries but put excessive financial burdens on the Nigerian nationals, who will be required to be paying thousands in dollars or thousands for a single way ticket. We need to watch out so we don’t fall into the same temptations we found ourselves during the first wave of the pandemic,” Ojikutu said.
Travel expert, Sunday Olumegbon, reckoned that there were more avenues to prevent further spread of the virus, than placing a ban on international flights.
Olumegbon said, besides the revenue that international flights bring into the country, the government should intensify awareness and screening at international entry ports.
He said the situation in the UK once again reinforced the urgent need for coordinated recognition of systematic testing of travellers.
“Governments must cooperate to put recognised testing capacity in place so that borders can remain open to the vast majority of healthy passengers. COVID-19 is likely to be with us for some time. So, rather than travel bans, governments must adopt more flexible and practical policies to manage the risks in a way that enables people to safely work and travel.
“Test, test and test again has been the mantra of the World Health Organisation (WHO) for almost a year now, and we implore governments to act on this advice. I’m surprised that our port health authorities are still following the old routine of just filling forms, telling travellers to pay and go for tests within seven days. Other countries, including Cameroun, are conducting tests at the airports and on arrival. That is the way to go,” he said.
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