Government has set strict aviation guidelines for airlines and travellers before reopening Entebbe International Airport.
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Diana Atwine, yesterday confirmed the development, saying the measures were designed to allow airlines return to the skies, keep travellers safe and avert the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr Atwine said government would first address the risks and ensure that Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) puts in place measures for travellers.
"There is a plan to reopen Entebbe International Airport but we will wait for scientists to give us a report on the standard operating procedures (SoPs) presented to them by UCAA before a decision is reached to reopen the facility," she said.
Sources at UCCA told Daily Monitor that some of the measures require all travellers to arrive early, wear face coverings at all times, maintain social distancing, handwashing or use of sanitisers and must go through a protracted slow check-in process.
Passengers with any of the symptoms of the novel coronavirus will be blocked from accessing the airport.
Rwanda and Kenya have already reopened their airports. The two countries have reemphasised the need by travellers to adhere to the health guidelines.
President Museveni closed Entebbe airport to all commercial flights on March 22 and only allowed cargo and UN planes carrying humanitarian emergency in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
The President later allowed Ugandans, who were stranded abroad, to return home.
Although the closure was for 32 days, the situation worsened as cases of Covid-19 increased in Uganda and other countries around the world . To date, all commercial flights are still on hold.
Dr Misaki Wayengera, the head of the ministerial scientific advisory committee on Covid-19, told Daily Monitor at the weekend that UCAA must ensure handwashing for all travellers, wearing of mask, keeping social distancing, disinfect all seats and rails and test temperature of all airport staff and travellers.
Dr Wayengera also reiterated that air conditioning systems that operate singly where air is picked from one source to other places must be changed, saying in the event such air is contaminated, it can easily carry the virus to other places.
"The issue of reopening the airport is not purely scientific. We engage sectors and come up with SoPs and then assess them before we can implement them. Therefore, the readiness to reopen the airport is with CAA. We are waiting for UCAA to report to us and then we assess their readiness before reopening," Dr Wayengera said.
Mr Vianney Luggya, the UCAA spokesperson, said the authority came up with a list of SoPs as required by government and sent a copy to Dr Henery Mwebesa, the Director General of Health Services, for approval.
"We have developed SoPs which we have shared with the Ministry of Health. We are, therefore, at the final stages of engagement with the key stakeholders and once the SoPs are approved, we shall resume operations," Mr Luggya said.
He also said their development was also informed by Covid-19 guidelines from World Health Organisation (WHO) and Airports Council International (ACI), among other bodies and domesticated them.
Some of the SoPs developed by CAA include installation of automated sanitiser at strategic points, marks at the airport to ensure social distancing, acquire temperature guns, three ultra-modern scans, which detect temperature at a 30-metre distance and these will be put in the waiting lounge and rooms of Very Important Persons (VIPs).
Others are erection of executive tents at the airside and these will be used for screening and isolation to identify symptoms and testing for Covid-19.
Upon resumption of flights, passengers will be expected to arrive four hours earlier due to several checks.
There has also been development of glass shields between those interfacing with passengers to reduce direct contact, and taps in the airport washrooms have been changed from touch to non-touchable.
However, Mr Luggya said a decision to reopen the airport depends on many factors, and is only reached after thorough consultations with all stakeholders.
"You cannot see the other country reopening and you also rush to reopen without
considering key measures. The decision to reopen the airport can only be taken by government," he said.
Mr Godfrey Katongole, the chairperson of Kampala Arcades Traders Association, welcomed the reopening of the airport.
"Most of businesses in Kampala sell merchandise from China. The fact that all traders who used to travel to China can no longer go anymore means that there is no business," Mr Katongole said.
"Even if you told someone in China to send you merchandise, you could end up getting a different class of merchandise. Most shops downtown do not have merchandise and are selling old products. If government plans to reopen, then that is a good thing," he added.
Draft sops at Entebbe
-Regular washing of hands
-Wearing a facemask
-Disinfecting seats and rails
-Screening to ascertain temperature
-Use of protective gear by staff
-Travellers to be tested before exit and upon arrival in the country
-Small luggage to be allowed to reduce congestion
-All waiting lounges to be regularly disinfected
-No handshaking and hugging
Rwanda, Kenya SOPs
Some of the SOPs which Rwanda and Kenya have put for travellers include social distancing, wearing a facemasks, disinfecting seats and rails, screening to ascertain temperature, use of protective gear by staff and regular sanitising for staff and passengers.