Passenger who have travelled back to Nigeria since international flight operations reopened on September 5, 2020, have complained of delays at the coronavirus screening procedure where arriving passengers are made to spend hours before they are attended to by port health officials.
THISDAY learnt that the passengers are also made to pay for COVID-19 tests, which many of them see as exploitation because some of them are allegedly not tested after the payment.
Informed sources told THISDAY that the travellers on many occasions have protested over the COVID-19 protocols, which sometimes takes as long as four hours, as testified by some passengers who spoke to journalists at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja recently.
The objective of the screening is to make sure that arriving passengers are coronavirus free. The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had directed in the revised protocol that international travellers arriving Nigeria must conduct a mandatory COVID-19 PCR test within four days (96 hours) before departure to Nigeria.
The Nigeria International Travel Portal directs that arriving passengers must fill passenger pre-boarding health declaration screening form and pay between N48, 000 to N50, 000 for the conduct of coronavirus test on arrival. After the payment Port Health was supposed to assign the passenger to a lab, where he would be tested for COVID-19.
THISDAY investigation at the Murtal Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos revealed that this process takes a long time. Passenger that arrived at the airport spend not less than one and half hours at the COVID-19 screening.
A passenger who recently arrived from South Africa, who simplify identified herself as Christiana, told THISDAY that she spent about two hours at the COVID-19 screening area before going to Immigration, noting that the delay could also be determined by the influx of passengers, as flights land at the airport.
THISDAY also learnt that many of the passengers who make payment do not get confirmation and the Port Health don't assign some of them to health facilities where they could be tested.
A passenger who arrived MMIA in December last year who confirmed this to THISDAY, saying there was so much pressure for her to make payment and it was the same thing with other passengers. According to her, once the payment was made, Port Health officials did not follow up with the same steam to ensure that the passengers were tested.
"When we arrived we filled forms because I did not fill it online. After filling the form they brought POS for payment. I paid and I was told I would get the health facility where I would go for the test. Some of the passengers I was with at the flight also paid money and there was no follow up about going to do test.
"I am also aware that there were people who were invited for test and they went and were tested but since the test was done they have not received any result from them over a week now. What I don't understand is why they insist on payment for repeat test when they do not follow up to ensure that the test was administered. I travelled to the East on my return and I found out that many hospitals are doing the test free. So why insist on payment of the money for test when most people who made the payment are not tested?" she queried.
THISDAY spoke to the Director, Port Health Services at the Lagos airport, Dr. Morenike Alex-Okoh on telephone and she said she was not authorised to talk as a public servant, she however maintained that port health officials were carrying out PTF COVID-19 directive.
However, the General Manager, Corporate Affairs, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Henrietta Yakubu told THISDAY that the agency was not responsible for the delay at the airports, noting that Port Health is wholly in charge of COVID-19 procedure and confirmed about the delay of passengers.
She noted that as a gateway the two international airports in Lagos and Abuja, which currently serve international flight operations, are carefully maintained by FAAN because the agency is aware that foreigners rate the country from their arrival at the airports and whatever impression they have affects the image the Nigeria has abroad.
"We have really improved the airport. We have renewed the COVID-19 protocol markings and improved facilities and are fully ready for the second phase of the virus. The procedure for screening of arriving passengers are under the Port Health. They are fully in charge of that; so if there are any issues you should find out from them. Yes, I learnt that passengers spend long time during COVID-19 screening and I am hopeful that concerned officials will look into it," she said.