COVID-19 Tests:  Air Travellers Bemoan Exorbitant Charges

AIRPORT

…Fake Certificates on The Rise

BEVERLY HILLS, May 10, (THEWILL) – Travellers on international flights are lamenting the exorbitant cost of COVID-19 tests at the nation’s airports as fake test certificates are said to be in circulation, thereby defeating the purpose of the exercise, THEWILL findings have shown.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, a major challenge encountered by air travellers, is the series of Polymerase Chain Reaction test for COVID-19 which each air traveller needs to undergo before undertaking any international journey.

A PCR test for COVID-19 is a test used to diagnose people who are currently infected with SARS-CoV-2, which is the virus that causes COVID-19. The PCR test is the “gold standard” test for diagnosing Covid-19 because it is the most accurate and reliable test.

Passengers Recount Ordeal

With the mandatory COVID-19 tests, most travellers are paying more for their trips, largely due to an additional cost  of the PCR test, which is done more than once for each trip. This places additional financial burden on the travellers who also have to cope with the continued depreciation of the naira against the US dollar.

Investigation shows that many families have pruned down their rate of international travels, while others have reduced the size of their family entourage involved in overseas trips.  The foreign exchange scarcity plaguing the economy has also worsened the plight of travellers who are now being asked to pay more for COVID-19 testing – a compulsory requirement for international travel.

Narrating his experience, Mr Jude Onwubuya told THE WILL that he was surprised that he could spend so much money on COVID-19 tests when he visited Nigeria from Glasgow in the United Kingdom, last December.

Onwubuya claimed he had to part with an initial sum of £120 (One hundred and twenty pounds ) for a single test done before leaving the United Kingdom.

On getting to Nigeria, he was asked to do another test after seven days, which cost him about N40, 000. That was not all. He had to do another COVID-19 test when he was ready to go back to the UK, an exercise that cost him another N40, 000. In the end, he spent about N150, 000 on tests alone.

Another Nigerian citizen, Mrs Constance Braimoh, who travelled to South Africa late last year, recounted how she spent large sums of money for COVID-19 tests in Nigeria and South Africa.

According to Braimoh, the cost of the tests has seriously affected air travellers. She therefore appealed to the authorities to find a way to make the tests more affordable for all air travellers.

Also narrating his experience, Mr Raphael Ukeji, who just left Nigeria to Belgium, complained about the high cost of doing COVID-19 tests, stressing that the charges are on the high side.

Ukeji, who said that he spent not less than N200, 000 on tests alone during a visit to Nigeria, appealed to the Federal Government to come to the aid of air travelers by taking up the bills for Covid -19 tests.

IATA Wants Cost Borne By Governments

To ensure that air travellers don’t pay exorbitant fees to get the tests, the International Air Transport Association is already working out ways to ensure that high costs for COVID-19 testing do not put travel out of the reach of individuals and families.

However, an IATA sampling of costs for PCR tests (the test most frequently required by governments) in 16 countries showed wide variations by markets and within markets. Of the markets surveyed, only France is said to have complied with the World Health Organisation recommendation that states should bear the cost of testing for travellers.

Out of the 15 markets where there is a cost for PCR testing to the individual, the average minimum cost for testing was $90 while the average maximum cost was $208.

In his comment, the Director General of IATA, Willie Walsh, said, “As travel restrictions are lifted in domestic markets, we are seeing a strong demand. The same can be expected in international markets. But that could be perilously compromised by testing costs—particularly PCR testing. Raising the cost of any product will significantly stifle demand”.

“The impact will be greatest for short-haul trips (up to 1,100 km), with average fares of $105, the tests will cost more than the flight. That’s not what you want to propose to travellers as we emerge from this crisis. Testing costs must be better managed. That’s critical if governments want to save tourism and transport jobs; avoid limiting travel freedoms to the wealthy”.

Explaining further, the IATA DG noted, “Testing costs should not stand between people and their freedom to travel. The best solution is for the costs to be borne by governments. It’s their responsibility under WHO guidelines.

“We must not let the cost of testing—particularly PCR testing—limit the freedom to travel to the rich or those able to be vaccinated. A successful restart of travel means so much to people—from personal job security to business opportunities and the need to see family and friends. Governments must act quickly to ensure that testing costs don’t stall a travel recovery.”

WHO Advocates Free Tests, Vaccination

Similarly, the World Health Organisation’s International Health Regulations stipulate that states should not charge for testing or vaccination required for travel or for the issuance of certificates.

Reiterating its position on this, the WHO COVID-19 Emergency Committee recently called on governments to reduce the financial burden on international travelers of complying with testing requirements and any other public health measures implemented by countries.

A Market for Fake Certificates

According to experts, many states are ignoring their international treaty obligations, putting a travel recovery in jeopardy and risking millions of livelihoods. It is also believed that high testing costs can also incentivise the market for fake certificates.

For instance, in early March this year, the Murtala Muhammed Airport Police Command arrested five suspected syndicates which specialise in forging fake COVID-19 certificates in Lagos.  According to the Airport Police Commandant, CP Abubakar Umar Bature, the suspects are also the ones luring passengers to the airport where various sums are extorted from them; In this case, N50, 000.

Explaining further, the CP said, “The victims have access to all the nooks and crannies of the international airport and approached one Michael Osagbogu who was on a queue of London bound aircraft and at the pretence of procuring COVID-19 Certificate, if he was in need. Thereafter, they cornered the passenger to an isolated toilet where N50, 000 was extorted from him.

He also informed that the suspects confessed to the crime and exhibits, including N50, 000 and laptop computers used to generate the fake COVID-19 Certificates as well as the certificates which are being used as exhibits.