The government has announced that mandatory Covid-19 testing for all travelers entering the country will start today.
The directive is intended to curb further importation of deadly variants of coronavirus into the country with 3,129 deaths and 122,277 infections confirmed thus far.
Nearly five strains, including the highly transmissible delta variant, have been registered in Uganda.
Dr Richard Mugahi, the assistant commissioner for health services at the Ministry of Health, said yesterday that the government plans to improve the turnaround time of Covid-19 test results from four to two hours or less.
“We are going to have a capacity of 300 samples per hour. We are installing five PCR machines that will give us the capacity to test the samples at that rate,” he said.
This means the government lab will be able to test up to 3,600 travelers if working 12 hours a day or 7,200 if working 24 hours.
Entebbe airport currently receives an average of 1,300 incoming travelers a day, according to information from the government.
The revelation from the Health ministry comes eight days after Information minister Chris Baryomunsi announced that Cabinet had resolved to take over mandatory testing from private laboratories for all incoming travelers.
Dr Baryomunsi also revealed that the cost of a Covid-19 test would reduce significantly from $65 (about Shs228,800) to $30 (about Shs105,500).
Dr Diana Atwine, the Ministry of Health permanent secretary, in an interview on Monday, said “complaints [received about private laboratories] led us to decide [to take over the mandatory testing].”
She added that “the issue of cost and the [long] waiting time” made the intervention inevitable.
The mandatory testing decision was made a day after an inter-ministerial team led by Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja assessed the preparedness at designated testing facilities at Penial Hotel Beach Entebbe.
Ms Nabbanja had said they noted serious inefficiencies in Covid-19 testing such as delays and issues of poor implementation of Covid-19 preventive measures. A section of government officials and MPs came to the conclusion that these outstanding issues would taint the image of the country and irritate tourists.
Up to six private companies, including Test and Fly, Case Hospital, Medipal, Safari Lab, Same Day Lab and City Medical lab, had installed their equipment there.
But Dr Richard Lukandwa, the medical director Medipal International Hospital, said they had invested a lot of resources to install expensive equipment at Penial Beach Hotel.
Dr Lukandwa said the decision to take over mandatory testing was confusing because they had installed the machines following a call from the Ministry of Health.
“In the past, they (the government) have tried that [Covid-19 testing] but failed because of their procurement system where you can’t procure things in time and it affects seamless testing,” he said.
Mr Richard Nkusa, a laboratory expert at Medical Laboratory Society of Uganda, also shares Dr Lukandwa’s scepticism.
“The places that are doing testing have invested heavily and they helped the government during the time of need when it didn’t have capacity. The number of people who will need that mandatory testing are too many and the space they are operating in is small… this will cause a lot of discomfort [to travelers],” he said.
Mr Andrew Nsawotebba, a Ministry of Health official who is in charge of testing travelers at the airport, said they have not yet started installing equipment because the house they were given within the airport needs to be remodeled.
“We are trying to redesign the structure we were given into a lab,” he said. The country is currently testing travelers from 10 high-risk countries.
Mr Emmanuel Ainebyoona, the Ministry of Health spokesperson, said the private labs are still testing incoming travelers from countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, India and United Arab