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A time of dread and stress, but light too

BY: Ajoa Yeboah-Afari

WHO would have thought that there would come a time when air travel would lose its allure? That in place of the fascination of that means of travel there would now be dread and stress; as well as inconveniences galore?

But clearly, that time has now come.
And evidently more of the above is being experienced in practically every country and at every international airport currently reopening for flights – dictated by the unseen, but definitely encountered enemy, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The COVID-19 has now claimed the lives of more than 800,000 worldwide and infected more than 24 million, the United Nations (UN) says.
Earlier this week, on September 1, the long-awaited, bittersweet reopening of the Kotoka International Airport (KIA), came off. ‘Sweet’ because the national economy, as well as so many social and other spheres depend on regular air transport.

‘Bitter’ because of the extra restrictions now added to the already stress-burdened experience that air travel has become, ever since the advent of air terrorism, notably ‘9/11’, the September 11, 2001, terrorists attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, in New York.

After the many months of people being marooned in many countries because of the strict no flights regime, it can be believed that the gradual resumption of flights would be very welcomed. Yet, it can also be imagined that for countless numbers, the joy has gone out of air travel because of the new, rigid, regulations compounding the normal stress of air travel.

What prospective air travellers now have to undergo in order to even gain access to the airport Departure Lounge, indicates that COVID-19 era travel is not for the faint-hearted.

For example, the following are some of the ‘Guidelines for resumption of international operations at Kotoka International Airport’ issued by the Ghana Airports Company Limited (GACL):

Departing Passengers
(a)Departing passengers will be required to adhere to COVID-19 testing requirements for the destination countries.
(b)Departing passengers will be required to always wear a face mask appropriately and adhere to social distancing …
(c)Passengers are advised to arrive at the airport at least four hours before (emphasis added) scheduled flights.

Arriving Passengers
(d)Passengers must not have symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 including body temperature of 38℃.
(e)(Passengers must possess a COVID-19 negative PCR test result (emphasis added) from an accredited laboratory in the country of origin. The test should have been done not more than 72 hours before the scheduled departure time …
(f)Airline crew are exempted from the pre-departure and arrival testing and should follow airline policy for testing.
(g)Passengers will be subjected to a mandatory COVID-19 test at the airport terminal at the cost of $150 (emphasis added) to be borne by the passenger.

I find it quite curious that the GACL assumes that everybody understands the term “PCR test”.
Anyway, apparently, by the guidelines, COVID-19 lead fighters globally have agreed a comprehensive common strategy to stop its spread, to defeat it.

One concern had been how the world can beat the virus if countries are not able to agree on a common set of regulations to stop exporting the COVID-19 to other countries. A depressing scenario of a never-ending cycle infection and re-infection had presented itself.

The WHO Travel Advice of July 30 states: “There is no ‘zero risk’ when considering the potential importation or exportation of cases in the context of international travel.”

Thus, clearly, the measures for resumption of air travel in this era, though tedious are the carefully considered and developed flight plans of both the International Air Transport Association, the WHO and partners.

In the past, one recalls with nostalgia, in Ghana a visit to the airport, KIA, was part of entertainment, enjoyable. Even just going to the airport to see somebody off was considered fun, a social event. People actually dressed up to go to the airport to see off family members or friends.

If the prospective traveller was from a small community, or a family none of whose members had previously even seen a passport, the airport-going took on a carnival atmosphere, with busloads of well-wishers in the entourage.

Probably the only thing missing would be a brass band to celebrate the local son or daughter deemed to have raised the image of that community by travelling abroad, a candidate for the prestigious title ‘a been-to’. And the dress code would be celebratory white.

Indeed, one didn’t even need the excuse of seeing somebody off to go to the KIA. People arranged rendezvous there, to have drinks, or just to watch departures and arrivals.

However, this is 2020, the era of the terrifying coronavirus which has cast a blight on the world and on all such enjoyment one used to take for granted.

In the present situation, evidently even those who urgently need to travel will not be looking forward to the airport experience ahead, and who can blame them?

Nevertheless, if the restrictions are part of the worldwide strategy to rid the world of the virus, as seems to be the case, then who can quarrel with any attendant frustrations?

As the procedures constitute the light at the end of this horrendous tunnel, one can only hope that all countries will cooperate with zeal and meticulousness to apply them to rid the world of this terrible affliction.

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