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Entebbe Airport gears up for re-opening

Entebbe International Airport

Entebbe International Airport Uganda reopens operations soon

Going through Entebbe Airport has always been a rough experience for the average traveller but COVID-19 prevention protocols could make your check-in and check-out even more cumbersome.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc around the world and grounded thousands of airlines, travellers going through Entebbe were expected to arrive three hours early to undergo stringent security checks.

In March, President Museveni directed the closure of Entebbe Airport and other entry/exits into and out of the country to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The directive was initially for 32 days but has since been extended indefinitely after several extensions of the lockdown.

But, as re-opening gets closer, passengers who had got used to airport security officials rummaging their packages and bags, removing belts and shoes before being subjected to thorough body checks, look set for even tougher times. For a start, passengers will have to arrive at least four hours before their flight.

Besides going through a long health check, wearing face masks at all times, maintaining social distance, washing hands and using sanitisers will be mandatory. Passengers with any of the symptoms of the novel coronavirus will be blocked from accessing the airport.

Dr. Diana Atwine, the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health said Aug.3 that the setting up of the strict measures were designed to allow airlines return to the skies, keep travelers safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“You will be expected to have a valid COVID-19 certificate issued within 48 hours from where you are coming, and on arrival, we shall still take your COVID-19 samples,” Vianney Luggya, the publicist for the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) told The Independent recently, “You may have done the testing where you are coming from but it is mandatory that we still test you on arrival.”

Luggya told The Independent that the airport authorities have borrowed and domesticated several standard operating procedures from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the Airports Council International, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Africa Civil Aviation Commission and the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency.

“We have domesticated these guidelines into protocols that will apply when passenger operations resume,” Luggya told The Independent, “There is emphasis on wearing masks by passengers and staff.”

The airport authorities have already erected tents for health screening of incoming passengers while designated tents have also been erected for people with symptoms.  Ugandans returning from abroad have already been screened in these areas.

Other SoPs developed by UCAA include; installation of automated sanitisers at strategic points at the airport to ensure social distancing, deployment of temperature guns, and three ultra-modern scans which detect temperature at a 30-metre distance.

These will be installed in the waiting lounges and rooms of Very Important Persons (VIPs). Glass shields to minimize contact between the passengers are also being installed while taps in the washrooms have been changed to non-touch faucets.

Luggya told The Independent that there are also plans to put in place automated non-touch doors in the passenger access areas. The pre-boarding lounges which for a long time have been small partitioned zones will be torn down to create more space for passengers. “Some of the changes are immediate while other interventions are medium term,” Luggya said.

Located 47km south of Uganda’s capital, Entebbe Airport is the main gateway into Uganda and boasts more than 70% of passenger arrivals into the country and supports many businesses in the importation of raw materials and export of Uganda’s goods and agricultural produce.

The new protocols found Entebbe Airport already undergoing several upgrades. Work on expanding the cargo centre is still ongoing but the old runway (1230) is ready to handle airlines.

The government closed Entebbe Airport on March 22 effectively prohibiting passenger flights coming from outside the country from landing. This was one of the measures put in place to prevent the introduction of the coronavirus in the country. Only cargo and UN aircraft were allowed to fly in and out of Uganda.

Additional reporting by The Independent

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