The Presidential Taskforce, PTF, on COVID-19 disclosed on Thursday in Abuja that since it inaugurated the International Travel Portal about four weeks ago, over 27,000 passengers have entered into the country through the Lagos and Abuja airports.
The Coordinator of the PTF on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, who spoke at an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria explained that it was a huge operation, with 18,000 coming through Lagos and just a little over 9,000 through Abuja.
“Of the 27,000 plus passengers, 99.8 per cent had a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test result. The majority, specifically 85 per cent, had no issues with payment on the portal. Of the 15 per cent who had issues, 12 per cent had their issues resolved on arrival.
“It is correct to say that of the 27,000 the majority seamlessly went through the registration, entry, and re-testing process.
However, with an operation of this scope and scale, there are bound to be issues that will arise; this is an IT system. It’s not perfect, we are humans, talk less of computers,” he explained.
Mr Aliyu said the Travel Portal was still relatively new.
“We didn’t try out the portal but we immediately implemented it because of the pressure for reopening the international airports. Without the travel portal, we would still be struggling to reopen airports safely,” he said.
The coordinator said that the PTF have been working collaboratively with public and private sector partners to address the issues and challenges as they arise.
“We are aware of a particular case of a traveller who had been charged multiple times for his PCR test on arrival to Nigeria from Sweden.
“The online platform failed to record his payment for the re-test in Nigeria due to technical difficulties. As soon as the PTF was aware of his unfortunate experience, we immediately began investigating to resolve the issue. I am happy to state that the person has been refunded all the extra money he paid. In fact, he was paid the same evening we got that information, and the process is now being fine-tuned to prevent such occurrences,” he stated.
Mr Aliyu said that the PTF do sympathised with the frustration travellers have to go through when the system malfunctions or when they experience these challenges.
“Throughout the world nowadays, if you are travelling, you have to fill in additional information on IT systems belonging to countries, as a prerequisite for travelling.
Nigeria is no different, we need to move away from paper copies. We need to have electronic systems that would allow us to go back and check when things go wrong.
“When people have positive results in-country, having arrived with a negative result or when they fill out a health questionnaire, we need to go back and check if they reported any symptoms when they arrived.
“We cannot continue with paper copies, because it is very difficult to do so, with the number of passengers arriving into the country,” Mr Aliyu noted.
According to him, we get between 5,000 and 7,000 passengers coming into the country every day, when fully opened. The amount of paperwork is huge, and it’s impossible to be able to investigate and find out what goes wrong.
The Coordinator, however, urged returning travellers to please bear with the PTF and not hesitate to bring such issues directly to them.
He noted that the PTF was committed to improving the entry process, that was why they were are working with their partners, CACOVID, to implement a 24hr customer service hotline with the NCDC, as well as customer service representatives stationed at the airports.
He, however, noted in the interim, Nigerians should please continue to email them on email@example.com – if they were having issues.
“We also ask the public to support us in our efforts to significantly flatten the curve of this virus in our country. One of these measures is the need for us to have a repeat test at day 7 upon returning to Nigeria.
“The reason being that after having come into the country with a negative result, conducted up to five days before leaving your country of departure, you have less than a 10 per cent chance of being picked up if you are going to seroconvert. We have been proven right,” he said.
The coordinator disclosed that of the 2,403 passengers who have been tested in Lagos, when they started the exercise, 80 tested positive after taking the re-test, meanwhile, they had a negative COVID PCR test before departure.
“I can assure if we had tested them at the airport on arrival, we wouldn’t have picked up a positive result. At most, we would have picked up half of them. Out of 2,400 passengers, pick 80. If we start running at full blast with 5,000 passengers every day, how many will you be missing, if you do not look for it?
“If we had a system of enforcement or isolation, such that everyone coming into the country self-isolates effectively for two weeks, you do not need to do the test because we know you will not transmit to anybody else,” he said.
Mr Aliyu noted that but the government does not have the resources to check or enforce such. Therefore, the only option was to pick up people who were likely to become infectious fairly early on, which was around day 7 after arrival.
In resolving the technical difficulties, he said that for passengers facing issues with the portal, they should please visit the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) under Help and Support, on the online portal: nitp.ncdc.gov.ng/onboarding/help/faq.
“If you are debited for a failed payment or debited more than once, please follow the following steps: Contact your Bank providing transaction details (transaction date, amount, and transaction reference).
“Your Bank will then log a request from the acquiring Bank (where applicable). If you have not been able to complete the payment online and did not receive a QR code before boarding: Visit saferports.com/my-traveller-record, to retrieve your QR code ‘Access Report’ instantly.
“You will be allowed to board the flight if you hold a valid COVID-19 negative PCR result. As a temporary measure, passengers will be required to pay for the repeat COVID-19 PCR test on arrival in Nigeria,” he explained.
Mr Aliyu, however, warned that passengers without a QR code may face longer delays on arrival in Nigeria before exiting the airport.
“In the coming weeks, when we resolve issues with the QR codes, they will be mandatory. There will be penalties for those who do not upload their details on the system.
“If you must correct the information already provided, then please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the email subject: Correction of Travel Information,” he stressed.
Speaking on Private Laboratory Testing, the coordinator pleaded with Nigerians to understand that the PTF was asking everyone to conduct two PCR tests, “one before departure and another 7 days after arrival to Nigeria.
“Please note the re-tests in Nigeria are being conducted by private labs found on the Travel Portal. Do not pay laboratories that are not registered in the Travel Portal.
“As mentioned before, as many as 80 people have tested positive for COVID-19 seven days after arrival in Nigeria, despite testing negative in the country of departure.
“These numbers are high because the virus can spread quickly and silently. This is why the PTF has made testing mandatory,” he said.
Mr Aliyu said that the cost of the COVID-19 PCR test had been raised repeatedly, reiterating that no government agency was receiving the funds.
“The negotiation of the costs is between State governments and the private labs themselves. The charges range between N35, 600 for the Kano portal, which will be operationalised, and N50, 400 for Lagos.
“We continue to urge private laboratories to fulfill the requirements to get on the payment portal, because as we do that, the cost will come down. We saw this in Abuja, as the cost fell from N42, 750 to N35, 900. In the future, it may be possible for us to have more rapid tests that are more cost-effective,” he said.
According to him, the portal will be changing, the question will not be: “where are you arriving, Lagos or Abuja?” and will become: “where will you be on day 7?” and you will be able to choose your sample collection center based on that.
“It is impossible to have sample collection centers in every city in the country, but we are already making significant progress. We have opened a lab in Kano and will be opening several sample collection centers across the country in the next few days so it will be easier for travellers.
“Wherever you are, if you pay for a test on the portal, it’s the responsibility of the laboratory that you have paid to make sure that your sample is collected. You do not need to go back to Lagos or Abuja for your sample to be collected.
“If there is no private laboratory in your state of final destination, the laboratory you have chosen for your test during registration will make arrangements to have your sample taken at a designated lab,” he explained.
Mr Aliyu disclosed that the PTF and NCDC were urgently working with all states to create a mechanism for private testing.
“We’ve already approached 6 or 7 states that have private labs in their states. To see a list of accredited private laboratories, especially if you are travelling out of the country, visit the NCDC microsite covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/privatelabs,” he said.
Mr Aliyu noted that as is evident in many parts of the world, COVID-19 continues to pose a significant danger and challenge to all.
“As the world begins to embrace the new normal following the resumption of travel and the repatriation process, we will continue to address new challenges as they arise. There will be some inconvenience, but we plead with the public to please bear with us as we continue to make this process more streamlined and easier to navigate,” he added.
The coordinator stressed that the international travel portal was the innovation for controlling the spread of COVID-19.
“Indeed as a country in Africa, we’re one of the few that have a functional travel portal, this makes travel possible and seamless for travellers. The Task Force, CACOVID, and other partners are working relentlessly to ensure that challenges are dealt with swiftly.
“Hopefully, as we open up the customer support centers, it should be easier for passengers to reach out if they are having issues. The issues we have seen on the social media could have easily been resolved if they had reached out to the right person,” he said.
Mr Aliyu added that the PTF appreciates everyone’s patience, cooperation, and understanding as they resolve these technical issues and continue to facilitate international air travel safely.