697 travellers test positive for Covid – Daily Monitor

Travellers are cleared at Entebbe airport last year. Government postponed mandatory testing of travellers. PHOTO/COURTESY
The government has revealed that up to 697 cases of Covid-19 infections have been detected among travellers entering through Entebbe International Airport.
The Ministry of Health officials told MPs yesterday that the travellers are presenting the delta variant, which is highly transmissible and is associated with severe disease and a high death rate.
Dr Richard Mugahi, the assistant commissioner for health services at the ministry, said the tests were done between May 10 and August 30 on 18,907 samples from travellers. 
The government is currently testing about 10 per cent of travellers arriving in through the airport, meaning the exact number of infected travellers entering the country could be higher.
“The number one contributor of positive cases is Kenya which has 186 cases, representing 46 per cent. We all know that Kenya is almost at the peak of the fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Mugahi said.
He added: “Other cases were from the United Arab Emirates with 148 cases, followed by South Sudan, Tanzania and South Africa. Fifty-four of these cases were among tourists.”
Dr Mugahi said those tested included 7,500 Ugandans who were returning from those countries and that the rest were foreign travellers. 
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the virus has killed 3,053 people and infected 120,662 people. 
Dr Mugahi said samples with high viral load were sent to Uganda Virus Research Institute for genomic sequencing, and they found that delta variant was dominant in the samples.
He made the remarks while MPs were touring the private facilities that the government has contracted to provide Covid-19 testing for international travellers. 
The facility is at Penial Beach Hotel in Entebbe and six laboratories are testing travellers. The labs include Test and Fly, Case Hospital, Medipal, Safari Lab, Same Day Lab and City Medical lab.
The MPs under Parliamentary Health Committee were assessingthe preparedness of the facilities to handle mandatory testing for all travellers arriving in the country. 
The testing, which was supposed to start on September 3, was postponed for two weeks by an inter-ministerial team over capacity and cost issues, among others.
Dr Charles Ayume, the head of Parliamentary Health Committee, said although mandatory testing should be implemented urgently, critical gaps exist in the testing arrangement.
“There have been a lot of public concern …regarding whether those who are immunised and tested in the last 72 hours should be subjected to [another] test [upon] arrival. Yes, science has shown that even if you are vaccinated, you can still be a transmitter of these new variants like the delta,” he said.
“As a committee, we shall support the position of the Ministry of Health [of mandatory testing] to ensure that all passengers are tested,” he added.
However, Mr Isaac Otim, the MP for Padiere County, said government must cut the cost of testing and address loopholes customer care at the facilities to give travellers a positive experience.
“All the six laboratories have installed the equipment for testing and this will reduce the turnaround time from four hours to two hours. The customer care is not good. At the entrance, people are paying $65 (about Shs228,000) but you are received by an LDU (Local Defence Unit) [personnel],” he  said.
“There must be a way of bringing down the cost from $65 to $40. If you go to other borders like Elegu, the charges are around Shs140,000 and they are also receiving and handling a lot of traffic,”  Mr Otim added.
Dr Mugahi said they will hold more discussions to address the issue of cost.
Dr Ayume said tests must continue to protect public health.
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