Vaccinated or not, travelers are still being made to pay for COVID-19 test at the point of entry in many of Nigeria’s international airports, a LEADERSHIP Sunday findings have revealed.
Some of the travelers who spoke to this newspaper lamented the exorbitant amount they are made to pay at the point of entry, saying health officials force them to pay as much as N39,000 or more.
It was gathered that authorities at the nation’s airports always find reasons to disregard the vaccination certificates of travelers even though many of them are coming from countries where vaccination is relatively easy and forged certificates are hard to come by.
It would be recalled that the federal government, through the presidential taskforce on COVID-19, had in April, 2022 announced a review of its COVID-19 travel protocols, stating that fully vaccinated travellers coming into the country would no longer be required to undergo COVID-19 tests.
The travel protocol which became effective from 12:01 am on Monday April 4, 2022 states : “Fully vaccinated passengers arriving Nigeria will not also be required to carry out post-arrival PCR test or a Rapid Antigen Test upon arriving Nigeria; they will also not need a COVID-19 PCR test before boarding Nigeria-bound flights.
“In-bound passengers who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated for COVID-19 shall take a COVID-19 PCR test 48 hours before departure and undergo Days two and seven post-arrival PCR tests at their own cost.”
“Also, in-bound passengers must register via the online Nigeria International Travel Portal.
“Children below the age of 18 years will be accorded the same privileges as persons who are fully vaccinated.”
However, a passenger, Ikechukwu Omeje, who came into Nigeria from Ireland recently, said he was made to pay for the COVID-19 post arrival test even though he is fully vaccinated.
Omeje said he paid to a dedicated account (not to any individual) and was told that he would be contacted for the test in a few days.
Also, a medical doctor, John Imoke, also complained of paying for the test even though he was fully vaccinated.
He said, “When we got here, we drew the attention of our port health authority to the fact that it will make no sense for fully vaccinated travellers to pay for a PCR test when it will be scrapped in few hours, April 4th, of course, they refused to see reasons and have been extorting people.
“It is a terrible feeling, having been out of the country and wanting to come back to your home country. It is highly insensitive that no one is here to explain to us why we need to pay.
“If we were unvaccinated, it would be understandable. But you do a test 48 hours before we journey into the country and you are fully vaccinated and you are now forced to pay for a test that will happen 48 hours after, where is the sense in it? It is really absurd and I am disappointed; everywhere in the world, restrictions are being lifted and here we are all about extorting ourselves.”
LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that the chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 and secretary to government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, had stated that outbound passengers are subject to the rules of the country they were heading to.
Whereas the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19’s provisional travel Protocol for travelers arriving Nigeria clearly stipulates that fully vaccinated passengers arriving Nigeria are not to pay for post arrival Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test, many persons with COVID-19 vaccination cards showing they are fully vaccinated are compelled to pay for PCR day to and day seven testing.
The protocol states: “Travelers who are fully vaccinated are not required to observe the mandatory 7-day quarantine nor undertake the day two and day seven post arrival PCR tests.”
But the director, Port Health Services, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr Geoffrey Okatubo, said most people who are asked to undertake the post arrival PCR testing even while they present fully vaccinated cards are carrying fake vaccination cards.
The director had said earlier that 422 people were apprehended with fake COVID-19 cards at the Abuja International Airport within two months (July and August).
He said these 422 people came with COVID-19 vaccination cards claiming there were fully vaccinated, but when the cards were screened by the port health services officials at the airport, it showed that the cards were not real.
Contrary to speculations that anybody returning to Nigeria is subjected to post arrival PCR test, Okatubo said it is only those whose cards show they are not vaccinated or partially vaccinated that are asked to pay for PCR test.
He explained further that the money for PCR test is paid directly to the private labs chosen by the passengers in the cause of filling the forms through a bank, adding that the money is not paid in cash, neither is it paid to individuals or the government.
Meanwhile, LEADERSHIP Sunday checks revealed why some passengers’ cards show not vaccinated during screening even though they are fully vaccinated with genuine vaccination card.
It was learnt that the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) sometimes delay uploading of data and probably is overwhelmed with backlogs of unprocessed data.
This, it was gathered, is the reasons why some vaccination cards showing fully vaccinated are seen as partially vaccinated or not vaccinated.
This is happening at a time the World Health Organization is predicting that the end of the Covid-19 pandemic is in sight.
On Thursday, the director general of the international health body, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, at a press conference, said, “Last week, the number of weekly reported deaths from Covid-19 was the lowest since March 2020.
“We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic – we are not there yet, but the end is in sight.
“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view, she runs harder, with all the energy she has left. So must we.
“We can see the finish line; we’re in a winning position. But now is the worst time to stop running. Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.
“If we don’t take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption and more uncertainty. So let’s seize this opportunity.”