The Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA), the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Sierra Leone Airport Authority (SLAA) have conducted the first COVID-19 preparedness simulation exercise for the commencement of flight operations at the Freetown International Airport (FNA).

The purpose of the simulation exercise was to test and improve the Entry Health Screening process and general security on COVID-19 at the arrival area of the airport; gauge the various agencies in realistic COVID-19 health response and preparedness, and identify gaps on response and further plan on improvement.

Addressing the gathering, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Hon. Kabineh Moinama Kallon expressed his delight in the exercise, regarding it as the first successful step leading to the reopening of the airport. While recalling the 90-day suspension of scheduled flight operations, he stated that the primary goal was to prevent COVID-19 from entering the main Point of Entry which was the airport.

“The aim of this simulation exercise was to assess the level of preparedness of the aviation industry to respond to public health emergencies before the resumption of flights. The responsibility of the Ministry of Transport and Aviation is to oversee the process, facilitate improved coordination and collaboration among various actors within the aviation industry to ensure the smooth reopening of the airport. We have assessed the arrival processes of disembarkation, hand washing, temperature check, and baggage claim. We have identified the gaps and planned well while trying to broaden our scope,” the Transport Minister said.

Briefing the aviation stakeholders, the Project Manager of IOM, Kunikazu Akao acknowledged the need to reopen the country for economic purposes and welcomed the idea of reopening the airport for flight operations. He noted that IOM had been contributing positively to the development of the airport since Ebola period; while commenting on the swift reopening of the airport, he maintained that the IOM, Ministry of Transport and Aviation, SLCAA and other relevant stakeholders have been working tirelessly to mitigate the risk of having a resurgence.

 “Today, we conducted a preliminary simulation exercise to design a new way of responding to the needs of passengers while maintaining the necessary health protocols and mitigating the risk of recording cases at the airport,” he said.

Responding to questions on proper contact tracing of passengers, the Director-General of SLCAA believed that prior to the reopening of the airport, the SLCAA and all relevant stakeholders have ensured that all the necessary steps have been instituted to mitigate the risk of passengers arriving at the Freetown International Airport, and one of the steps, he added, included the provision of multiple sources for collecting data.

“The aim of the multiple sources of data collection is to ease the work of the contact tracers. This is enhanced by the use of a mobile app designed by Africell Mobile Company. With the mobile app, we will be able to trace and track passengers who have been tested positive or those who have been identified as primary and secondary contacts,” he concluded.

Responding to the airport’s preparedness to mitigate the risk, the General Manager of SLAA, Ebenezer Macauley admitted the impact of COVID-19 had had on the aviation industry. However, he believed that with more training on passenger and baggage handling, and a refresher training on the requisite health protocols implemented by WHO and MoHS, his staff would mitigate the risk of having a resurgence.

The team concluded its exercise at the Government Hospital in Lungi where the medical doctor updated the Minister and Deputy Minister of Transport and Aviation on the 30-bed treatment centre and 6-bed isolation centre provision including the preparedness of their personnel to handle confirmed cases should the airport start recording cases.

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