Police at Entebbe International Airport have arrested 23 intending travelers after they were found with forged Covid-19 negative test certificates just hours after Uganda’s virus cases reached 10,590 on Sunday. The group consisting of three women and eight men, most of whom are of Ethiopian origin are being detained at Entebbe Airport Aviation Police (AVPOL) station for interrogation. A source privy to the arrest but prefered anonymity since they are not authorized to speak to journalists, told this publication that the clearing team that was on duty at the time the group was arrested has also been taken to AVPOL station for questioning.
The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) spokesperson, Mr Vianney Luggya confirmed the development saying they are not the first suspects to be apprehended since the airport reopened as part of government move to relax the virus induced lockdown.
“Well, this is not the first group that has been arrested with forged documents. We put in place mechanism that can detect forged documents. That’s why we are able to apprehend the culprits and always advise our travelers to get proper clearance 72 hours before their flights,” Mr Luggya said. A week ago, authorities at the airport said more than 50 passengers had so far missed their flights for showing up with invalid Covid-19 negative test certificates.
All travelers going through the airport are required to present a negative PCR Covid-19 test certificate issued within 120 hours before their departure time while incoming passengers must have a negative PCR Covid-19 test certificate issued within 72 hours before their flight.
The new guidelines came into effect October 1st, 2020 when the government reopened Entebbe International Airport for commercial flights after the six month lockdown. On average 14 flights take place at the airport each day with at least 50 passengers on board.
On October 2, 2020, health workers blocked 45 passengers from boarding a flight to the United Arab Emirates. The travelers presented expired Covid-19 test certificates that were issued before September 28th, 2020. Apparently, UAE only allows travelers with a negative PCR Covid-19 test certificate issued within 96 hours before departure. The certificates are mandatory for passengers whose final destination is Dubai or are connecting through Dubai from 55 countries including Kenya, Uganda and the USA among others.
On October 7, four Ugandans including one female adult and three minors also missed their flight to Tunisia for presenting expired certificates. The certificates were issued on September 16th, 2020 after they secured clearance from the ministries of health and foreign affairs to leave Uganda. Although the female passenger asked for more time to rectify the dates on the certificates, saying they took the tests three days to the flight, by the time she received soft copies of the valid certificates, the plane had already departed from Entebbe Airport.
The same happened to another female Ugandan, who missed her flight on October 8th. 2020. She was expected to board the 11 pm Fly Dubai flight to UAE. She cried when the health workers turned her away. She later told journalists that she took the Covid-19 test on September 29, 2020 and her certificate was issued on October 1, 2020. “It is painful that my certificate expired and yet my employer has been waiting for me to travel since July,” she lamented.
The travelers had secured a job as a domestic worker in the UAE.