Government issues tough travel rules as airport reopens

Wednesday September 30 2020

Uganda Civil Aviation Authority acting director general Fred Bamwesigye guides journalists at Entebbe International Airport yesterday. PHOTO/ EVE MUGANGA

By Nobert Atukunda

 As Entebbe International Airport gears up for reopening tomorrow, government has issued tough guidelines for travellers and the airlines.

On September 25, the Director General of Health Services at the Ministry of Health, Dr Henry Mwebesa, wrote to the Director General of Uganda Civil Aviation Authority directing that any foreign passenger arriving without a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test [a certificate showing that one has tested negative to Covid-19] will not be allowed to enter the country and must go back with the airline that brought them.

“The PCR test must have been done from a laboratory approved by the country where the journey was initiated,” Dr Mwebesa’s letter reads in part.

 Returning nationals without PCR tests will be allowed into the country but will be required to take a Covid-19 test (at $65) and also be quarantined at their own cost as they await their results.

Dr Mwebesa said these guidelines were made in consultation and in line with the current International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) guidelines and regional airports practices on Covid- 19 standard operating procedures.


In the latest national address on Covid-19 last week,  President Museveni said Entebbe International Airport and land borders would be reopened for tourists and business travellers, coming in and going out of the country, but added that they must have tested negative to Covid-19  72 hours before the flight to Uganda.

This means that frequent travellers will have to test twice for Covid-19, before departure from and return to Entebbe.

Mr Museveni said tour operators would ensure the tourists do not mix with the local population.

He said the tourists will be driven straight from the airport to their destinations or to designated transit hotels that are set aside for that purpose.

 In the guidelines for airport reopening, tour agencies have been asked to closely monitor the health conditions of the tourists for the duration of their stay in the country.

Cabinet resolutions
Cabinet resolutions of September 28 indicate that government agreed to stop mandatory 14-day institutional quarantine for travellers.

Initially, all travellers especially stranded Ugandans abroad returning home were subjected to 14 days of quarantine. “All arriving travellers would no longer be subjected to institutional quarantine…for all travellers presenting with symptoms at the airport without a test result, a sample will be collected upon arrival and the individual asked to quarantine at their own cost until the result is returned,” a Cabinet resolution reads in part.

Additionally,  travellers will be given guidance on the recommended procedures for self-quarantine where needed and for infection prevention.
Dr Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health, yesterday said with Uganda being in Phase 4 of the pandemic, focus needs to be put on the country as travellers have a minimal risk.

“As long as they have negative results they will not be quarantined but still we request that they can go and do self-quarantine because you are not sure where they passed.  They can pick the infection or they could have been incubating when they tested. So you self-isolate at home,” Dr Atwine said during an interview with this newspaper.

Asked whether this does not impose danger to the community, Dr Charles Olaro, the director for Curative Services at the Ministry of Health, said with Phase 4 of the pandemic, cases identified represent only 10 to15 per cent of community cases. Dr Olaro said therefore it is not feasible to track and institutionalise all confirmed cases in the community.

Cabinet further resolved that testing of any recent travellers would be symptom-based in the event that they develop symptoms consistent with Covid-19 and the responsibility of ensuring travellers are tested prior to their travel falls on the airlines.

Senior presidential adviser on epidemics, Dr Monica Musenero, told Daily Monitor that this decision was arrived at because airlines are best placed to enforce this rule.

Dr Musenero said responsibility of Covid-19 pandemic has been shifted to the individual level as the pandemic is past the stage where the responsibility is on government.

Guidelines incoming travellers

-Passenger must come with a negative PCR Covid-19 test certificate done 72 hours before the flight to Uganda. 
- Airlines must be instructed not to board any passengers without a negative PCR Covid-19 test.
- Any foreign passenger arriving without a negative PCR test should not be allowed to enter the country. 
-The PCR test must have been done from an approved  laboratory in the country where the journey was initiated.
-On arrival, all passengers will be screened for temperature and other signs of infectious diseases by the Port Health Team supported by Ministry of Health.
-A passenger who shows signs and symptoms of an infectious disease on arrival will be put in a waiting ambulance and taken to an isolation centre (Entebbe Hospital) for checks and a sample for Covid- 9 test will be taken. 
- Results will be returned in 24 to 48 hours as the passenger remains in the isolation centre.
Outgoing Passengers
- Must have a negative Covid-19 PCR test done within 72 hours before boarding.
- In special cases where passengers are not required to present a negative Covid-19 PCR test in the countries of destination, they should ensure they have a clearance from the country they are travelling to and will be allowed to board.
lA passenger with symptoms of an infectious disease as detected by Port Health staff will not be allowed to board but will be taken to an isolation facility for medical investigation and treatment.
 lThe Ministry of Health will not establish a Covid-19 testing laboratory at Entebbe airport as earlier requested.