I returned to the country recently amidst publicized frustration with the Nigeria International Travel Portal the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and NCDC established as the international travel protocol for COVID-19 management. It motivated me to share my personal travel experience departing and returning to Nigeria.
Before leaving Nigeria, I drove to a COVID-19 testing site at The Dome in Abuja and did a test five days before my travel date. It took ten minutes to complete paperwork and sample collection. I got my results by text on the fourth day. On departing, I observed that physical distancing and face masks were practiced at the Abuja airport. I noted that not all airlines and countries require a COVID-19 test before departing, therefore, travellers need to confirm with the airline and the country of destination well ahead of time.
I had booked Air France for the first leg of my trip to Atlanta, Georgia, USA. It was a packed flight with no space between seats. However, passengers wore face masks. On arrival at Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris, I found that there was no physical distancing, but people wore face masks. The next leg was a Delta Flight from Paris to Atlanta. There was particularly useful physical distancing, as well as the use of face masks and hand sanitizers. Everyone was well spaced-out at the airport. Passengers filled a form, and they guided us to self-isolate for the first 14 days. Returning to Abuja, Nigeria.
For my return flight to Nigeria, I did my COVID-19 test in Atlanta, Georgia, without a problem by logging onto the Georgia Department of Health website. I booked my appointment five days before departure. It took 10-15 minutes, and I got my required PCR results in two days. Apparently, Nigeria does not accept rapid antibody test results. It must be PCR.
With my negative PCR test result, I logged onto the NCDC website. It took me six minutes to enter information for my spouse and I. However, it took about three trials for our payment processing for the re-test. It eventually worked as it initially showed error messages. I paid N39,500 using my naira debit card. I got both our QR codes in my email inbox within five minutes. I printed hard copies but also had electronic versions. When I did not get my QR code initially, I printed the temporary code available on the website, but ended up not needing it after I got the permanent QR code as proof of my registration and my receipt for the re-test in Nigeria.
My travel itinerary was Atlanta-Chicago-London-Abuja. All the airline staff insisted on seeing COVID-19 test results to confirm my negative result and five day testing window. The last leg of the flight was on British Airways. There was spacing between passengers on board. We landed in Abuja at 4:35 am, and I was out with my luggage and through immigration by 5:30 am. I completed the Nigeria health form on the flight prior to landing; a one pager that only took three to four minutes to fill out.
I have a few observations from my experience at the Abuja airport. There were four arrival lines. It was a quick and seamless for those of us who had registered, paid, and had a QR code before arrival. I went through Immigration in about 15-20 minutes. Other traveller categories were those who registered on the NCDC website but didn’t receive their QR code despite payment; travellers who registered and printed a temporary code but had not paid; and those who had not done any registration or payment. This category of non-payment or registration had to go to another section. Out of curiosity, I asked someone in this category why he did not register. He said he just ignored the link the airline had sent to him once he had the COVID-19 test to board.
Another observation was that there was no rushing or disorganization at the arrival airport. I got through Immigration quickly and had to give them my address in case they needed to track me for not doing the COVID-19 retest. The next step will be to self-isolate for seven days and go for the test on Day 7. It was a smooth experience overall.
Tayo, who lives in Abuja, works in the health sector
– The Cable