After over six months of shutout, Entebbe International Airport resumed operations. Airport staff are now happy to restart the business they know how to do best. Airlines hit the ground running again. But it will take a bit of time for them to attain cruise speed.
This is the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Just like the borders, resumption of airport operations is very necessary, given that movement of tourists and businesses is the fulcrum of an economy like Uganda’s. Also, many livelihoods depend on these ports of entry being fully functional.
Many people know this too well, after they already spent the last half year thinking hard about alternative livelihoods. Their primary sources of income were brought to a halt when the airport and borders were closed.
Now that entry/exit ports are operational, one for continuous operations. Even amidst the prevalence of Covid-19 that threatens to run out of control. To ensure continuous operations, all of us must be ready to implement the simple-to-do Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). Even at personal levels.
To assess the implementation of the SOPs at airports, and to know if or not, we are ready, let us tick the following readiness checklist. You take a walk around the airport; you get encouraged; when airport staff properly don protective wear, to keep the dreadful Coronavirus away.
Immigration personnel that attend to arriving passengers have their faces well covered behind masks, hands in gloves, observing the necessary safety and health requirements. Port health authorities are seen to very carefully take arriving passengers through pre-entry formalities, as well as conducting temperature checks.
They carefully look through the port health records that travellers fill upon arrival. However, one aspect that needs immediate improvement is the use of hand gloves. Latex gloves attract dirt. If poorly used they can expose people to the risk of catching the stubborn virus. Possibly, new ones need to be worn each time a traveller is handled, to protect also the travellers that they are facilitating.
For continuity of operations, at border points and for infection avoidance or prevention and control are the key. They are very vital for controlling Covid-19. Airport staff were protected when the airport was closed in March.
Now that business has resumed we need double prevention efforts to avoid a spike. To build the capacity of airport staff to effectively prevent and control the spread of Covid-19. Infection prevention and control will protect both airport staff and users of the airport.
Even with the knowledge that people have; adherence is the biggest challenge. To build confidence in our clients, airport staff must be safe. Throw all resources at them. Train them. Make personal protective wear and related essential supplies readily available to them. Equip the airport medical facility with testing kits that give travellers’ results in real time. Airport staff should in return reduce travellers’ queuing time at check-in, pre-boarding and within the concourse as much as possible. Airports need vibrant public health emergency management so that people are not worried about contracting Covid-19, Ebola, yellow fever and the other viruses. We should strengthen coordination between Ministry of health and airport staff.
Infection prevention and control should not be a once-for-all initiative. And not just about Covid-19. Rather, it should be about an everyday practice by integrating it in the airport public health system. It should be part of the normal public healthcare standard. In order to kick out Covid-19, start by keeping port staff safe from infection. Otherwise, a few positive cases identified will severely damage normal operations and might require all staff to self-isolate, which would in essence amount to a shutdown!
Simon J. Mone is a Civil Engineer,