Challenges on Air Travel Process… SLCAA Director-General Clears the Air

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The Director-General of the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA), Moses Tiffa Baio, has cleared the air on the numerous claims on the unavailability of COVID-19 test kits at the Freetown International Airport (FNA).

During an interview with the African Young Voices Television, the Director-General highlighted that there has been complete misinformation on the unavailability of test kits for arriving passengers at the airport as all 328 inbound passengers were tested and given their COVID-19 test result within 24 hours.

“Following the proclamation made by H.E President Julius Maada Bio on the 22nd July 2020 regarding the reopening of the Freetown International Airport, 328 passengers have arrived to date. All of these incoming passengers have been tested for COVID-19 and only two so far have been confirmed positive. The sole essence of the Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT) is to eliminate the issue of quarantine at the airport,” he said.

Responding to concerns raised regarding rumours making the rounds on the lack of kits available for incoming passengers at the airport, the SLCAA Boss acknowledged that there were challenges because the process was new, adding further that based on the travel advisory issued by the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, incoming passengers to Sierra Leone would be subjected to two tests; the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and the Rapid Diagnostic Test (RDT). He, however, mentioned that the RDT, which was meant for secondary screening, was not available at the time of the reopening.

“The PCR is considered the gold standard test for COVID-19. When swabs are collected for PCR, test results will only be out in 48 hours. Given that RDT is currently unavailable, the turnaround time for test results is within 24 hours. The RTD is considered the secondary test which is basically conducted for the purpose of screening to avoid keeping passengers at the airport whilst awaiting their PCR test results,” DG Baio revealed.

Director Baio also elaborated on the issue of paying $80 for testing, noting that the sum was a cost-recovery mechanism that would guarantee the sustainability of the entire travelling process during COVID_19. “Many other nations,” he disclosed “keep arriving passengers at hotels for some time at the passengers’ own cost, whereas that is not the case in Sierra Leone. Testing has been widely regarded as one of the new-normal approaches in global travelling for passengers.”

Making a comparative analysis of other countries, he revealed that passengers are paying the least for the COVID-19 test in Sierra Leone. “Payment for COVID-19 test not only peculiar to Sierra Leone as most countries require a positive PCR test result before travellers could be allowed to enter and that requires payment for the test kits. Countries which cannot provide for their travelling populace are paid for by the travelling public to conduct their tests,” he said.

The Director-General maintained that mandatory tests were being carried out at the airport to avoid a situation wherein the airport would be used as a means through which more cases would be transmitted into the country as was seen in the first case of COVID-19 in the country. “There is nothing more expensive than public health safety,” he emphasized.

For the procurement of RDT kits, he assured that the process had been completed and they were expecting the RDT kits in the country by the end of the week. He concluded by describing the reopening of the airport as a calculated risk geared towards minimizing the spate of infection of COVID-19.

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