*Arrival Fee $80
*Departure Fee $80
The country’s lead campaigner against Corona Virus, National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) has again come under the spotlight for what travellers refer to as extortion and unnecessary deprivation of passports.
The NACOVERC extortion, passengers say, come in the form of payment of $160 both for arrival and departure.
Travel.Gov.sl is Sierra Leone’s portal for passengers arriving at or departing from Freetown International Airport.
The portal operates 24 hours for passengers who intend to leave the country to register, and pay for their tests online and through mobile money.
The ICT COVID-19 Response pillar under the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation manages the site which processes travel authorization and assists the surveillance pillar with contact tracing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Questions about the use of the fee have come up among many Sierra Leoneans especially those who embark on foreign travels.
To many Sierra Leoneans, the fee demanded by NACOVERC has no relevance to the fight against the virus.
The manner in which the testing is carried out in Lungi has become an object on intense criticism as many have referred to is poor and ineffective.
A Sierra Leonean who recently arrived in Sierra Leone from the diaspora intimated this press that he had spent over a week waiting for his test result instead of the three days recommended by the NACOVERC Standard Operating Procedures.
“I did my test over a week now, and haven’t received any text or call regarding the outcome. What happened to my test result,” he enquired.
He went on to state that Covid-19 testing for which the fee is demanded is less effective and extremely poor.
Critical questions about the congested nature of the facilities where the testing is done at the Airport also came up.
The testing system at the Lungi Airport, the source said, is less satisfactory considering that there is no social distancing among Airport staff and in Sierra Leone as a whole.
He says random movement of people inside the airport especially at the Immigration Desk who he believes are not airport Staff.
Another Sierra Leonean has also expressed his unreserved criticism about the new testing law enforced at the Lungi Airport.
He referred to it as an activity that is absolutely unnecessary considering the period the result is released after the test making the risk of infecting others very high.
“According to the new law, the person takes the test, leaves his passport and crosses over to Freetown and mingles with other people. How many people do you think he might have infected,” he wonders.
Apart from concerns raised about the payment of fees for the ineffective testing at the airport, the seizure of passports for days is also another area of utmost concern for the affected passengers.
He believes that the possibility of missing passports remains high and the uproar about it will just make the new law as totally uncalled for.
As the possibility of missing passport looms, another Sierra Leoneans says he does not hesitate cancelling his trip abroad instead of handing over travelling papers.
He vows to resist the risk even if it costs him to stop his foreign travels.
“Not a risk I am willing to take. I will wait to get vaccinated before travel,” he told this press.
Following the reopening of the country’s airspace to commercial flights in July last year, public health and aviation officials agree that increased testing is one key way to build traveller confidence and to flatten the Corona Virus curve.
Sierra Leone’s travel protocols, since the reopening of the airspace this year, require passengers to apply for a travel permit from government.
Negative COVID-19 PCR lab test result issued no longer than 72 hours before departure, proof of payment for the test and a completed public health locator form are conditions that must be satisfied to travel in or out of the country.
In due enforcement of the COVID-19 rules, Government of Sierra Leone through Ministry of Transport and Aviation in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority, Sierra Leone Airports Authority and the National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre publishes basic measures.
The measures became public health guidelines to be strictly adhered to by arriving and departing passengers in and from the Freetown International airport.
Arriving passengers are required to produce a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction, production of traveller’s authorisation, proof of payment for COVID-19 testing on arrival among others are some of the guidelines passengers must comply with.
Departing passengers are also subjected to similar measures.
But, the measures, according to many Sierra Leoneans, are uncalled for as a source has also told this press such is not the case in England.
“The question is why Sierra Leone,” she asked.