The Director-General of Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA), Moses Tiffa Baio has engaged the Ministry of Transport and Aviation (MTA) and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MoHS) on the necessary safety and public health measures that have been put in place for the reopening of the Freetown International Airport (FNA).

The goal of the meeting was to discuss and address key emerging issues regarding the reopening of the airport to commercial flight operations.

In his presentation, the SLCAA Director-General revealed that the aviation industry had had series of stakeholder engagements with the National COVID-19 Response Centre (NaCOVERC) and MoHS for the smooth reopening of the airport, observing further that the team resolved in developing air travel process guide which would inform passengers, who intended travelling to Sierra Leone, on public health measures at the airport.

“During the meeting with NaCOVERC, we developed a policy brief with recommendations for the attention of the Presidential Taskforce. We have proposed that COVID-19 testing be conducted at the airport, and NaCOVERC has agreed to provide us with a mobile laboratory. The objective was to have a testing system that would be effective, efficient, and resilient to prevent a probable COVID-19 resurgence. What MoHS should help us with is to provide training for frontline workers, fumigate the airport, review passenger Health Locator Forms and set up the mobile testing system at the airport,” DG Baio said.

He encouraged the team to consider the Rwandan model which basically involved PCR testing before arrival at FNA, and a Resistance Temperature Detector (RTD) test would follow upon arrival, and results produced within 24hrs. While maintaining that all other Health protocols as directed by WHO would be observed, he confirmed that IOM and Africell had agreed to provide walk-through disinfectant channels and cargo disinfection machines at the arrival section of the airport.

Responding to the DG’s presentation, the Deputy Minister of Health and Sanitation 2, Dr. Amara Jambai expressed that collaboration was the key to achieve great results.

“The hallmark of this inter-ministerial success is to flawlessly work in close collaboration with all parties involved to ensure activities are properly coordinated. Things are happening very fast and Sierra Leone cannot be isolated to such progress. The airport is the face of Sierra Leone to the outside world so we must ensure that all the necessary measures have been in place to avoid public outcry. We will work with Professor Gevao to ensure the mobile testing system is set up speedily,” he assured.

In his statement, the Minister of Transport and Aviation Hon. Kabineh Kallon informed the gathering on the ECOWAS mandate to reopening the all sub-regional airport to scheduled commercial flight operations.

He, however, stated that the goal to reopen the Freetown International Airport could not be achieved without the close collaboration of MTA, the aviation industry, and MoHS.

He also informed the gathering that President Bio would pronounce the reopening of the airport when all procedures have been followed. Responding to questions on contact tracing, the Minister said that Africell Mobile Company had offered to provide a mobile application that would trace and track passengers when the need arises.

The Chief Medical Officer, Rev Dr. Timothy Samba advised the team to observe collaboration, consistency, conformity, and commitment to achieve a positive result, adding that MoHS should have an office at the airport to coordinate daily activities for prompt compliance.

He concluded by noting that the testing system should have some form of quality control and adequate personnel should also be stationed at the airport for effective monitoring and service delivery.

The Director of Health Emergency and Security, Dr. Mohamed Vandi disclosed that they were eager to reopen the airport given the numerous public concerns.

He raised concerns on three keys areas: digitalising the Passenger Locator Forms to expedite the process, swabbing before going through Immigration to prevent passengers from escaping the rest of the process, and releasing test results without further delay.

He concluded by assuring that Infection, Prevention, and Control (IPCs) for the training of all frontline workers and for disinfection were ready.

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