Chinelo Obogo, Lagos
Two international airlines, British Airways (BA) and Middle Eastern Airline (MEA), landed at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) as flights resumed Saturday, September 5, amid strict safety protocols.
An MEA flight 571 came in an A332 with registration number ODMEB from Beirut, Lebanon and landed at MMIA at 13.16hours. It had 221 passengers on board and 16 crew members, while a BA flight 075 came in with a Boeing 773, registration mark GSTBG. It arrived from London and landed at 16.36hours with 236 passengers and 13 crew on board.
The South-West Airports manager, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), who spoke to journalists at the airport, said the airport was shut down for five months and 13 days as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She disclosed that while the airport was shut, it processed 192 evacuation and special flights and 1,404 cargo operations.
On the protocol that travellers would have to follow, she said departing passengers are no longer expected to come to the airport with many people as non-travelling passengers can only stay at the drop off zone of the terminal.
‘We have been able to demacate the gates. The first gate is for crew and staff only. The B and C gates are for passengers. We have another gate for elderly and special people. At each of these gates, we have water provided for passengers to wash their hands. We have bag sanitising stations where passengers get their bags sanitised. Then the temperature of passengers are taken.
‘At the passenger gate, we have infra-red cameras that can capture many people at the same time. If you try to access the place without face masks, it will indicate that your face mask is not on. We have signs everywhere telling people what to do. The security will not allow passengers without face masks in. We have sanitisers at the gates.
‘If you have a temperature higher than the normal, the Port health will take you to a place that have been provided just to sit down for a while and check you again after some minutes. If you are okay, you will be allowed to travel,’ she said.
Due to the limited number of approved incoming passengers by the Ministry of Aviation, only 1,280
travelers would be allowed into the country daily per each airport. The NCAA said that it is not possible to accommodate the requested schedule of airlines but that over the next few weeks, as the number of allowed incoming passengers is increased, additional flight frequencies would be allocated to airlines in addition to accommodating any airline that meets the requirements for resumption of flight operations. The approved schedule is based on a maximum number of 200 passengers per each incoming flight to Nigeria but there is no limit on the number of outgoing passengers.
Passengers had to upload their COVID-19 negative results onto the national payment portal before boarding and brought along a copy of the result for presentation at the airport. At the airport, they were screened for fever and questioned for symptoms of COVID-19.
Passengers presented their international passports for clearance at the Nigerian Immigration System’s Migrants Identification Data Analysis System (MIDAS) after which the passports were returned to the owners.
According to the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in collaboration with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), it is mandatory that passengers would have to proceed on a 7-day self-isolation and must present themselves at the sample collection centers on the 7th day of arrival; samples would be taken and a COVID-19PCR test done; a reminder text message may be sent to the passenger by the private laboratory provider a day before the appointment.
‘Passengers who fail to submit themselves at the sample collection centers on day seven of arrival will be sent text reminders and their details forwarded to the State Public Health Department teams and NCDC for active follow-up.
‘Private laboratories will be required to forward details of passengers who decline repeat PCR test by day 14 of arrival for sanctioning. These passengers may be sanctioned with suspension of their passports or inclusion on a travel watch list for six months and denied foreign travel for this period,’ the PTF said.
Part of the protocol approved by the PTF states that passengers coming into Nigeria must have tested negative for COVID19 by PCR in the country of departure before boarding and the test must be within seven days before departure and 72 before boarding. Tests done more than seven days before departure would be considered invalid and the affected travelers would not be allowed to board.
The PTF ordered that airlines must only board passengers with test results showing that the tests were done within the stipulated seven-days before boarding and airlines that board passengers without a negative COVID-19 PCR tests or test results of more than seven days prior to boarding will be fined USD3, 500 per passenger.
One of the passengers who came in with MEA, Yassar Hamdan, told reporters that he tested negative for COVID-19 after undergoing a PCR test in Lebanon and he submitted his result before boarding.