Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 June 2020:
As fears grow, over the devastating impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on the economy of Sierra Leone, especially its tourism sector, there are calls for the country’s airport to be reopened next month. But the government is not convinved about such arguments, citing the huge public health risks.
Last week, the Director-General of the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority Moses Tiffa Baio presented a case to the country’s National COVID-19 Emergency Response Centre (NaCOVERC) calling for the reopening of Sierra Leone’s airspace for commercial flight operations.
While commending the Government of Sierra Leone on its admirable response so far in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, he noted that the aviation industry is facing the biggest challenge of its history.
The Director-General spoke about the huge economic impact caused by the pandemic. He said that before the suspension of scheduled flights, aviation was contributing greatly to government revenue, and was also contributing to the economic livelihood of those working in several sectors in the industry.
“The SLCAA being a member of the Global Network of the Aviation Industry has held series of consultative engagement meetings on the need to reopen the airport to schedule flights. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), through the Council Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), has resolved to partner with its Member States, international and regional organizations, and industry general to address these challenges and provide global guidance for a safe, secure and sustainable restart and recovery of the aviation sector,” DG Baio said.
He added: “The aviation community is ready for and fully committed to a safe restart, but we need all relevant authorities to act so operations can be resumed. To cope with the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic poses to travel, IATA proposed a road map for restarting aviation, aimed at providing the confidence that governments are looking for to enable the lifting of travel restriction and border controls while restoring the trust that travellers need to return to flying.”
Drawing the attention of NaCOVERC to neighbouring countries (Liberia and Guinea) that are on the verge of reopening their airspace to schedule flights, he stated that it would make Sierra Leone’s fight against COVID-19 cumbersome as a result of porous borders and other security concerns.
He concluded by noting the public health and safety measures the industry is putting in place for resumption of flights.
“We have had a joint inspection session of hotel facilities, airport clinic, sea transportation, the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) with the Sierra Leone Airport Authority, and Tourist Board. SECURIPORT are currently setting up E-gate to maintain social distancing; we have ongoing discussions with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to provide Temperature Measurement and Disinfectant Channel, which can be used for both Cargo and Passenger movement to minimize human contact and also contactless (censored) hand sanitizers,” he said.
In response to the Director’s appeal, Interim National Coordinator of NaCOVERC, Brig Rtd Kellie Hassan Conteh said the focus of NaCOVERC was centred on how much they could control the pandemic, stating further that Sierra Leone should be prepared for a possible public health risk should the industry be in haste to reopen the airport.
“NaCOVERC is not in a rush to advise on the reopening of the airport. We will be informed by the pandemic itself. Should NaCOVERC decide to advise the government on its reopening, all questions asked by the SLCAA will be looked into,” he said.
The Director of Health Emergency and Security, Dr. Mohamed Vandi said he was impressed with the measures the SLCAA has intended to put in place to reduce the human interface, adding further that SLCAA had addressed all the necessary questions they had intended to ask.
However, he maintained that NaCOVERC would prefer to conduct mainly test on arrival because there was no blanket approach to COVID-19 related testing.
“What we are currently doing is passive surveillance which involves testing people from quarantine centres and tracing primary contacts. We want to start conducting active case search after that we will advise on the resumption of flight operations. This will include testing every staff at the airport, including SLCAA and other service providing agencies operating within the industry before the reopening of the airport,” he said.