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Travel sector struggles with COVID-19 realities

…fake COVID results, low test centres cause hitches

One year after Nigeria detected its first COVID-19 case, the travel industry, which is one of the sectors hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic, is still struggling to fully embrace current realities referred to as ‘new normal’.

While airport authorities have since taken certain measures to contain the spread of the virus, such as enforcing social distancing, wearing of nose mask, baggage disinfection before flight, temperature checks before entering airport premises and use of hand sanitisers, the prevalence of fake COVID test results, low test centres and poor profiling and tracing of passengers have continued to cause hitches in travel.

Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst told BusinessDay that Nigeria needs to join the rest of the world in getting vaccines across and ensuring that certification given to passengers testing for COVID-19 goes beyond just printing and downloading, to the use of barcodes that can be verified, as this will help to reduce prevalence of fake results.

“The rapid antigen testing is something the government should introduce so passengers don’t go through the stress they are currently going through to get to Dubai and other countries with exorbitant fares,” Ohunayo said.

Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer – Mainstream Cargo Limited, told BusinessDay that since the COVID era, there has been standard operating procedures at all airports, adding that airlines and support services such as catering, ground handling and security have been reviewed to include COVID-19 mitigating and preventing processes and procedures.

Adewale said port health services have been optimised and their relevance in the aviation space more appreciated while governments now tacitly use COVID-19 restrictions as a tool against perceived ‘unfriendly countries’ and use same to covet or assist perceived ‘friendly countries’

He noted that aviation despite having approximately one percent contribution to global GDP and having an approximate 35 percent impact in terms of value has endeared governments to give unprecedented bailouts to the sector in order to ensure economic sustainability.

“We now see conversion of passenger aircraft or flights for the use as cargo aircraft or flight. This is because cargo flights have reduced restrictions and are more profitable in this era and airlines have been made to procure and have a healthy inventory of HEPA filters,” he said.

He, however, recommended that testing centres should be within airports especially international airports or in its proximity.

He further advised that there should be more hotels built within airport domain as seen largely in developed economies, adding that this is important due to rapid flight disruptions or changes to flights, COVID-19 based restrictions during traveling or in-transit.

In addition, he said passengers may need to isolate or rerun tests and reside therein until results come out without going back to the city.

“There is a need to establish globally acceptable ‘Right of the Traveller/Passenger’ to avoid discrimination, extortion or abuse during this pandemic era.

“There should also be global harmonisation of accepted test results as some countries only accept PCR Test while others accept other types of tests such as LAMP. This is confusing to international passengers and many are extorted or exploited in the process,” Adewale explained.

John Ojikutu, an aviation security consultant and secretary-general of the Aviation Safety Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), suggested that government through the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, (NCDC) and Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 should adopt tracing system and designate some tests centres in the states where prospective passengers can go for their tests.

Ojikutu further suggested that aside from issuing certificates, the results should be forwarded online to the PTF and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and NCAA should share these test information with all the appropriate agencies in approved layers of defence at the airports.

“Even before the passenger gets to the airport the result is already known on the defence layers system and you can hold any persons in the defence layers responsible if after having prior information on a passenger that is COVID positive, still allow passage through their defence layers,” he said.

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