Ready for four Covid tests for a five-day regional trip?

Saturday July 10 2021
Covid-19 test

A man gets a Covid-19 test at the Kenya Medical Research Institute laboratory in Kisumu, western Kenya. The facility can test 384 samples per day. PHOTO | AFP


Just a year ago, airline travel was looking up in the region with new routes opening up, and it was hop in, hop off all round with the farthest destination being just under two hours away.

Today, with the Covid-19 pandemic, travelling by air is an affair that requires days of planning ahead to meet the strict health protocols which have also added onto the travel costs.

Travelling is not only just riskier healthwise, but is costly as well, as passengers have to undergo a Coronavirus test before departure and on arrival, not to mention mandatory quarantine depending on the country you are travelling to.

Recently, Johnson K., a Kigali-based journalist, who is not new to drastic air travel requirements, was surprised by what the pandemic has changed.

“When I was invited for a short training in Nairobi, little did I know that I will spend more time on quarantine and taking more than four Covid-19 tests in a span of only five days,” said Johnson.

His nightmare started when he learnt that he would need to have the $60 PCR Covid test to travel to Nairobi. Luckily he wasn’t subjected to another test on arrival in Nairobi because his Kigali test was hardly 24 hours old.


“Kenya looks like the only country which is accepting Covid-19 tests from other countries. I was not asked for another test after landing in Nairobi,’’ said Johnson.

After a week’s stay in Nairobi, he had another Covid-19 test in Nairobi, 72 hours before travelling back to Kigali. “I was charged $80 in Nairobi for the PCR test. But to his surprise, on arrival in Kigali, he was required to get another $60 PCR test and also a mandatory quarantine as he waited for the results, at a hotel assigned by the government at a cost of $100 per day,” the not so happy Johnson explained.

“Kigali is still under a 6pm to 6am curfew. It is not just the cost, but the mental anguish one goes through just in order to travel for business,” he said.

In total, it cost Johnson $245 for a 5-day stay, Kigali to Nairobi return trip. The cost does not include flight ticket or airport transfers.

The situation is no different for travellers from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam, Kampala, Bujumbura or Juba.

Burundi, South Sudan and Tanzania are charging $100 for a Covid-19 PCR test for while in Uganda it costs $60.

But all this could have been avoided if the six East African Community partner states had harmonised the Covid-19 testing, reducing the current tests that make travelling for business costly and unfriendly.

Less than two percent of East Africans have been vaccinated, putting aviation travel in the region under many safety restrictions and requirements. Yet, all countries in the region don’t have enough vaccine doses to cover the general public and also those travelling for business and leisure as the need arises.

“The region is facing a Covid-19 vaccine shortage. So if you need to travel, you still need to take precautions,” said Dr Willis Akhwale, Kenya Health Ministry's Covid-19 vaccine taskforce chairman.

Tanzania, Burundi, Eritrea have yet to receive any vaccines. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan have received and administered a few Covid-19 vaccines.

Last week, Africa CDC Director Dr John Nkengasong described the Covid-19 vaccine shortage as “extremely concerning and at times frustrating”.

Vaccination is the only remaining hope for travellers. But all countries in the region can do is wait for Covax supplies to come through.