Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 July 2020:
Sierra Leone’s Director-General of the Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA) – Moses Tiffa Baio, yesterday held talks with senior officials of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA) and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) about the necessary safety and public health measures, that must be in place before the reopening of the Freetown International Airport for the resumption of commercial flights.
The SLCAA Director-General said that the aviation industry has had a series of stakeholder engagements with the National COVID-19 Response Centre (NaCOVERC) and MoHS, to review the smooth reopening of the airport, which concluded that there is need to produce an ‘air travel process guide’ to inform passengers intending to travel to Sierra Leone, about the public health measures they will expect at the airport.
“During the meeting with NaCOVERC, we developed a policy brief with recommendations for the attention of the Presidential Taskforce. We have proposed that COVID-19 testing be conducted at the airport, and NaCOVERC has agreed to provide us with a mobile laboratory. The objective is to have a testing system that would be effective, efficient, and resilient to prevent a probable COVID-19 resurgence.
“What MoHS should help us with is to provide training for frontline workers, fumigate the airport, review passenger Health Locator Forms and set up the mobile testing system at the airport,” the DG said.
He encouraged the team to consider the Rwandan model which basically involves PCR testing before arrival at Lungi airport, and a Resistance Temperature Detector (RTD) test would follow upon arrival, with results produced within 24hrs. He said that all other health protocols as directed by WHO would be observed.
He confirmed that the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and Africell have agreed to provide walk-through disinfectant channels and cargo disinfection machines, at the arrival section of the airport.
Responding to the DG, the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation 2 – Dr. Amara Jambai, said that collaboration is the key to achieving great results. “The hallmark of this inter-ministerial success is to flawlessly work in close collaboration with all parties involved, to ensure activities are properly coordinated.
“Things are happening very fast and Sierra Leone cannot be isolated from such progress. The airport is the face of Sierra Leone to the outside world, so we must ensure that all the necessary measures have been in place to avoid public outcry. We will work with Professor Gevao to ensure the mobile testing system is set up speedily,” he said.
The Minister of Transport and Aviation – Kabineh Kallon, spoke about the ECOWAS mandate on the reopening of all sub-regional airports to scheduled commercial flight operations. He however, stated that the reopening of the Freetown International Airport cannot be achieved without the close collaboration of MTA, the aviation industry, and MoHS.
He also said that President Bio will announce the date for the reopening of the airport, when all public health protocols have been followed.
Responding to questions on contact tracing, the Minister said that Africell Mobile Company has offered to provide a mobile application that would trace and track passengers when the need arises.
The Chief Medical Officer, Rev Dr. Timothy Samba spoke about the importance of collaboration, consistency, conformity, and commitment to achieve a positive result, adding that MoHS should have an office at the airport to coordinate daily activities for prompt compliance.
He concluded that the testing system should have some form of quality control; and that adequate number of staff should be stationed at the airport, for effective monitoring and service delivery.
The Director of Health Emergency and Security, Dr. Mohamed Vandi, said that they are eager to reopen the airport, given the numerous public concerns, but he raised concerns on three keys areas: digitalising the Passenger Locator Forms to expedite the process, swabbing before going through Immigration to prevent passengers from escaping the rest of the process, and releasing test results without further delay.
He concluded by assuring that Infection, Prevention, and Control (IPCs) training for all frontline workers at the airport is ready to commence.