The first sign of trouble was that my email to Dante lab was not replied and the contact number on their web address was switched off! There was no office address for the laboratory. An alarm bell rang in my head and I told my host I should have a plan B, so as not to miss my flight. I needed the result unfailingly on Saturday, without which I could not fill the Nigerian form.

I am compelled to relay my recent travel experience for other intending travellers to learn from and be guided against, so that they do not get stranded, especially those transiting through another country to their final destinations. This is not the best of times to embark on an international trip, except it is highly necessary. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so many travel protocols, such that many international travellers, especially those transiting, have been stranded because they were not fully aware of the rules or they just took things for granted. 

While it is good to impose stringent conditions to stop the spread of the coronavirus from one country to another, the various governments and all concerned with imposing and implementing the COVID-19 protocols, especially the accredited laboratories, should be effective in rendering services to travellers. There are some documents or certificates which are issued after COVID-19 tests by an intending traveller, without which he or she cannot travel.

I travelled to the U.K. on August 30, transiting through Schiphol airport, Amsterdam to Heathrow, London. I had the option of traveling directly to the UK but I choose to be adventurous by stopping over at Amsterdam on my departure to London and passing through Paris on my return trip to Lagos. I had never been to the two countries before, and even though I was to only pass through their airports in transit, I craved for the experience and I enjoyed it, especially when the transit time was not that long. My adventure nearly put me in trouble because of COVID-19 protocols, especially the test results which are time bound. 

What every intending traveller out of Nigeria and to Nigeria should know is that there are a series of COVID-19 tests to be conducted both before they leave and their return to Nigeria. There is one test to be done 72 or 48 hours to the departure, depending on the country being visited and the rules change from time to time, as  such travellers are advised to be up to date on the rules. 

In the case of the U.K., I must conduct a COVID-19 test with a negative result not more than 72 hours before my departure. I am also required to pay for a test online in the U.K. before my departure and evidence of this must be presented at the airport before I will be allowed to board. For passengers transiting through another country, they should be mindful of the timing of their tests so that it doesn’t lapse before arriving their final destinations while transiting. 

I did all the tests required before my trip and I had no problem boarding at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos. The laboratory where I did my test (Sahel Laboratories) was one of the accredited ones and it was very effective and professional, and the result was released in a timely fashion. I was also required to pay for two tests on my arrival at the U.K. (day two and  day eight). There is the option of a day five test (to release) which attracted an extra fee but I preferred to take the day two and eight tests and isolate for 10 days. It should be noted that Nigeria’s COVID-19 vaccine is not recognised in the U.K., even if you have been vaccinated twice. My green card showing that I have been vaccinated twice was never requested at any of the airports that I travelled through. 

I arrived the U.K. on August Tuesday 31 and isolated for 10 days. The test kits I paid for in Nigeria arrived at the address I gave online on Wednesday, September 1, on the second day of my arrival. I did the swab myself and sent it back to them as instructed. I was expecting the result within 24 hours but I was wrong, as it did not arrive until day eight, when I did the second test. The result of the second test arrived on Sunday September 12, when I was already back in Nigeria! 

The result was out by 3.29 p.m. on Saturday. It was negative, meaning I was fit-to-fly. As I was about heaving a sigh of relief, another problem started. I needed to upload the certificate of the test, as required by the Nigerian online form. I started filling the form and it was smooth up to the point where I was required to upload the certificate. The column kept rejecting the upload and we were on this for more than six hours.

The day two and eight tests are to ascertain my status while I was in isolation for 10 days and the result was expected to be released within 24 hours, but the result of Day two test came on day eight, while that of day 8 came when I was already in Nigeria on September 12, as mentioned, which already defeated its purpose. If I had tested positive, I must continue to isolate but if negative, I was free to go out after day 10. The U.K. health officials came to look for me five days into my isolation to know if was observing the isolation and they met me at home. They asked how I was feeling and I told them I was okay. I complained that I had not received my day two COVID-19 result and the officer told me I should keep expecting it. He checked my passport and left. Violators of the isolation rule are to be fined £10,000. 

My travails started when I was preparing to embark on my return trip to Nigeria.

I was booked to travel to Lagos via Air France and transit through Charles De Gaulle Airport. To travel to Nigeria from the U.K., I was required to do another test called fit-to-fly back to Nigeria. Nigeria’s requirement is that the test must be carried out 72 hours to departure, while the European rule is 48 hours to departure, if a passenger is either transiting or landing in any European country. 

The result of this last test must be out at least 48 hours to departure to my final destination from my last transit airport, which is France. It is this result which must be negative that I will need to fill the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) form online, without which no airline will allow me to board! Due to the experience I had with the 10-10 laboratory that did my day two and eight tests, I decided not to patronise them for my fit-to-fly test.  

I reviewed the situation with my host in the U.K., whose friend recently travelled to Nigeria. His friend recommended a laboratory called Dante for the test, whose result was to be out 48 hours to my departure. I paid £48 online on Wednesday, September 6. The kit was sent to me on Thursday, September 7 and I did the swab and sent it back the same day, as instructed. I calculated that the swab would be received the following day, Friday, and expected the results to be ready on Saturday, as my return flight was at 9 a.m., from London to Paris, while my final flight to Lagos from Paris was 3.30 p.m., which I had explained to them via email. This means the fit-to-fly result must be out by 2 p.m. on Saturday to be on the safer side, because by the time I arrive in France, the 48 hours should not have expired! Otherwise, I would not be allowed to board! I later met some passengers in Paris who were stranded because their fit-to-fly tests had expired by the time they got to Paris and they were not allowed to board until they repeated the test with €200 and paid another €300 fine for a rescheduled flight the following day. Some slept at the airport!  My test result from Dante Labs did not come until I had boarded in Paris around 3.09 p.m. on September 12! I would have missed my flight if I didn’t have a plan B. 

The first sign of trouble was that my email to Dante lab was not replied and the contact number on their web address was switched off! There was no office address for the laboratory. An alarm bell rang in my head and I told my host I should have a plan B, so as not to miss my flight. I needed the result unfailingly on Saturday, without which I could not fill the Nigerian form. So, he called another friend who also recently travelled to Nigeria from the U.K. and who transited through Paris. He was my saviour! He advised that I should forget about the test with Dante and go to Test Express, a walk-through laboratory somewhere in the Westfield Mall. So, I paid another £80 online and got a 7.30 p.m. appointment for Friday. They were so professional and effective. They constantly communicated through the SMS and email, constantly reminding me of my appointment. I went there and did the test and they assured me that my result would be out before 10 p.m. on Saturday which was okay by me.

The COVID-19 test result was out by 3.29 p.m. on Saturday. It was negative, meaning I was fit-to-fly. As I was about heaving a sigh of relief, another problem started. I needed to upload the certificate of the test, as required by the Nigerian online form. I started filling the form and it was smooth up to the point where I was required to upload the certificate. The column kept rejecting the upload and we were on this for more than six hours. We kept calling people for help but there was no solution. One of those we called informed us that someone had also called to complain about the same problem. I then contacted my travel agent, who said I should by-pass the column and go ahead to the column where I would pay. I tried that and paid (N39,500) with my Nigerian bank card. The money was deducted but no message came from NCDC that I have paid, and without a certificate showing PAID, I would not be allowed to board!

I got to Paris around 11.25 a.m. and as we started boarding around 3 p.m., my phone glitched and suddenly went blank! I almost fainted! It came on about two minutes after and I showed the airline officials my NCDC certificate and was allowed to board. It is always better to have a printed copy! Some passengers with the UNPAID NCDC certificate were not allowed to board! 

My agent took over the filling of the form and informed me that the money I paid did not reflect, but my form had been received as completed. A certificate was sent but UNPAID was written on it, meaning I could not board with it. The time was around 9 p.m. on Saturday and my flight was 9 a.m. on Sunday, meaning I had to be at the airport by 7 a.m. latest. My travel agent had to pay another amount of N39,500 from her end, using another bank credit card. It was after the second payment that the certificate showing PAID was sent to my email around 10 p.m.  

I could not print the certificates at that time of the day but I had them on my phone, which is allowed. I heaved a sigh of relief that at last, I was going back home. I checked in at Heathrow without any problem, having shown the two certificates – the COVID-19 test in London and the NCDC fit-to-fly form with PAID written on it. Later that night, the NCDC issued a circular to all airlines to allow passengers without the PAID certificate board because there was a problem with their portal! I was further relieved but I was wrong because the airlines were either not aware of the circular or chose to ignore it all the same, because while London did not ask for it, Paris insisted and without it, I would have been prevented from boarding! 

I got to Paris around 11.25 a.m. and as we started boarding around 3 p.m., my phone glitched and suddenly went blank! I almost fainted! It came on about two minutes after and I showed the airline officials my NCDC certificate and was allowed to board. It is always better to have a printed copy! Some passengers with the UNPAID NCDC certificate were not allowed to board! 

On arrival at Lagos airport, the NCDC form was again requested before any passenger was allowed to go through the immigrations formality. I finally left the airport about one hour after landing. 

My experience showed that while the Nigerian government is trying to control the spread of COVID-19, a strict adherence to the online form should have been made easier and whenever the portal had a problem, the airlines should have been informed earlier and ensured that they complied with the circular, allowing them to board passengers who could not pay for the Nigerian test. Many passengers suffered untold hardships as a result of this laxity and a number paid the testing fee twice. I paid twice and I am yet to be refunded.

In the U.K., many of the accredited laboratories are not serious about releasing test results on time and many don’t care if a passenger misses his or her flight! Passengers whose fit-to-fly tests expired due to flight delays at transit countries should not be made to suffer due to no fault of theirs. In spite of the hitches in filling the NCDC form, it is my opinion that Nigeria still manages the spread of COVID better than many countries and this may be the reason why the U.K. has recently moved Nigeria from the amber list to the Green list. This means that Nigeria passengers to the U.K. who have been fully vaccinated may not need to isolate on arrival in the U.K. The authorities concerned should rectify all the lapses mentioned and make traveling pleasant for passengers, despite COVID-19 protocols! 

 Hakeem Jamiu, the Deputy Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly (EKHA), writes via hakeematus@gmail.com

Source

Click for More News



Tell us your view below: