Uganda drops Covid testing for Travellers

By Adam Bukenya Updated on Wednesday 16th February 2022 at 1417 EAT.

What you need to know:

  • Gen Katumba said Uganda’s decision was in line with a position taken by East African Community member states.

Uganda is dropping mandatory Covid-19 testing for outbound passengers and arrivals, two Cabinet ministers separately confirmed yesterday.

Works minister Gen Katumba Wamala told members of a parliamentary committee that individuals transiting through Entebbe International Airport will no longer be subjected to mandatory testing.

In response to our inquiries, Health minister Dr Ruth Aceng said mandatory testing for travellers will end at all entry ports.

True, but it’s a temporary suspension. As [the] Ministry of Health, we remain on alert for any eventuality. However, [the] 72-hour test [result validity] for travellers before boarding or exiting remains [in place],” Dr Aceng said.

She added: “Therefore screening at the airport for incoming travellers and outgoing travellers will continue, and our health workers will continue to screen the Covid-19 test certificates.”

Neither minister specified the date when mandatory testing will end.

Appearing before the House Committee on Commissions, Statutory Authorities and State Enterprises (Cosase) yesterday, Gen Katumba said Uganda’s decision was in line with a position taken by East African Community member states.

“[The] government has decided that there will be no more testing at the airport, it will be selective. [For instance], if a traveller doesn’t have 72-hour [Covid test] result and has symptoms, then they will be picked to be tested, but testing every passenger that is coming in, it isn’t going to happen,” Gen Katumba told the Joel Ssenyonyi-led committee.

The minister, accompanied by officials from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA), appeared before Cosase yesterday to answer queries regarding the ongoing upgrade and expansion works at the country’s only international airport – Entebbe.

News of the end to mandatory Covid-19 testing will be a financial and time relief to travellers who have been paying anywhere between Shs150,000 and $60 (Shs210,000) for single PCR test before catching an outbound or incoming flight.

Some of the testing at Entebbe International Airport was preconditioned by passengers’ destination countries, and Gen Katumba said the requirement will remain in place.

The latest shift to the testing policy regime means Uganda is joining a growing number of countries, including France, India, and Denmark, that have dropped the pre-arrival PCR result condition for fully-vaccinated passengers or fully-jabbed passengers.

The ministers did not specify whether the restrictions were being lifted only for the fully vaccinated, but made clear surveillance for incoming passengers with Covid symptoms will continue as will tests for passengers headed to countries that demanding pre-arrival PCR test results.

Since the government reopened international borders, including Entebbe airport in October 2020, out-bound passengers were required to undergo mandatory pre-departure PCR tests, which increased the cost of travel, added to layover time and enriched selected firms doing the tests.

In addition, arriving passengers were required to pay $60 or more for PCR tests, with delayed results leading to crowding and anger at Entebbe International Airport and negative publicity online about Uganda’s handing of guests, particularly tourists.

A government decision to implement mandatory testing at Busia and Malaba led to strike by truck drivers from Kenya, paralysing imports inflow and causing a marked rise in fuel prices.

Staring inflation at the horizon and with the protesting drivers unrelenting, the government scrapped the Shs210,000 ($60) pre-entry PCR test requirement, paving the way for clearance of backlog of Uganda-bound traffic stretching several kilometres into Kenya.

The announcement of the end of mandatory testing comes less than a month after President Museveni fully reopened Uganda’s economy and last week lifted curfew on boda bodas first imposed on March 18, 2020.

Some countries that have waived pre-arrival Covid testing for the fully jabbed

1-   United Kingdom

2-   Portugal

3-   Denmark

4-   Sweden

5-   Thailand

6-   Vietnam

7-     India

8-   Cyprus

9-   France

10-  Norway

11 – Switzerland

12-Bahrain

13 -Greece (for EU vaccine certificate holders)

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