I travelled to one country for a week, on returning I’d done 8 COVID-19 tests

Last week I was privileged to be one of the few journalists invited by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa to attend and cover the Eighth Africa Regional Forum on Sustainable Development, in the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Overall, the Forum was very well attended, and the spirited engagement indicated the passion and commitment of the participants in articulating the challenges and opportunities of the continent which economy has been deeply impacted by the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.

The Forum theme was, “Building forward better:  a green, inclusive and resilient Africa poised to achieve the 2030 Agenda and the Agenda 2063.”

Before I left Accra for the meeting, I did the mandatory PCR test without which I would not be allowed to board a flight out of the country. Apart from the cost, there is the discomfort.

When I arrived in Kigali on the night of February 28, 2022, I had to subject myself to tests before I left the airport. At the Kigali International Airport however, I had to do two tests! A PCR and antigen tests – these two tests are mandatory in Rwanda and the samples had to be taken twice! There was the cost element too, but this time, very little discomfort, because as I was told, the lab technicians doing the tests have been told not to dig the swab deeper into the nose.

All the results, including the one form Accra were negative.

Then on the day before the opening of the conference, all participants were required to do another round of tests. That was three days after arriving in Kigali and having done tests. We were required to do these additional tests because as I understood it, the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame would be present. Indeed, as part of the COVID-19 protocols designed for the opening of the conference, only a certain number of participants would be allowed into the conference hall. Not everyone at the conference would be cleared to enter hall – tests or no tests.

At the end of that day, I had done five COVID-19 tests. All of them negative. But the upside of these extra two tests was that, I didn’t have to bear the cost. The Rwandan government picked the tabs, while I got the swabs.

Well, I had thought that would be enough and could be relied upon to allow me out of the country. But no!

Just about two days after that conference room requirement tests, I had to head to town on a motorbike taxi, to find the approved testing centre for another round of tests in preparation for my departure to Ghana – a PCR and antigen tests.

At the end of that day, I had done five COVID-19 tests. All of them negative. But the upside of these extra two tests was that, I didn’t have to bear the cost. The Rwandan government picked the tabs, while I got the swabs.

I arrived at Camp Kigali, the designated centre for the mandatory tests for travellers. There was a large crowd. My heart raced out of anxiety. When would it reach my turn? It was a few minutes after 4pm. Not long after I sat in a long, but disorganized queue the main doors into the tent put up for the tests were locked. But because the queue wasn’t being properly managed, it was a bit chaotic – everyone jumped up to go get their tests even if they just arrived.

It eventually got to my turn, well, I took my turn as I should, or else, I was going to be waiting for a longer time. The samples were taken, and I left.

Then 72 hours after that test, when I arrived in Ghana, as usual, I had to head straight to the testing screens to get my sample take, after paying $50. In Kigali it is $70 for the tests. So for a one- week trip to one country, I had to spend a total of about $240 for tests only, including the one before I left Ghana.

The experience left me thinking whether it is justifiable for governments to continue to subject travellers to the ordeal of a test any time they travelled.

COVID-19 seems to have come to stay, and it does appear there is precious little been said about it. It’s almost as if, the campaign to stay safe and avoid being infected has died out. It also does appear that the number of positive results is negligible.

In the light of all the science and data, as some would say, wouldn’t it be more prudent for governments to concentrate on vaccination, rather then compulsory testing for travellers?

Or it’s simply for the money.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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