Ahead of the resumption of international flight operations in Nigeria, the Senate has stressed the need for the government and the aviation industry to take proactive steps to ensure that all the international airports conform to local and international Covid-19 safety protocols, to guarantee safety of the travellers.
Chairman Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Disease, Chukwuka Utazi, urged the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and the Ports Health to ensure that travellers do not come to the airport healthy and leave the place sick.
He gave the charge when led members of the Committee on an inspection of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to ascertain the level of compliance with the COVID-19 safety guidelines and measures already put in place at the international wing of the airport.
During the oversight, which was organised by the Nigeria Health Watch (NHW), as part of its advocacy for sustained epidemic preparedness, Utazi insisted that all passengers using the airports irrespective of their status must adhere to the rules and subject themselves to safety checks especially in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the urgency is accentuated by the need to prepare for societal changes that will arise as the economy reopens with increased transportation, trade, and human interaction, including possible reopening of air travel, adding that efforts should be made to balance the benefits of a reactivated economy with the need to keep citizens safe.
The lawmakers also urged FAAN to also address the problem of touting at all the airports across the country, and ensure orderliness in the taxi operations at the airports.
Utazi deplored the attitude of some VIPs at the airports, saying: “Last time, it made headlines when some people who came here upon return from travels, and when subjected to security checks and similar things, molested our staff. And we don’t allow that, it is not done.
“Most of these people, who travel and who come back here to harass our staff behave very orderly in all the countries they come from. But once they return to Nigeria, they feel that our staff are not supposed to enjoy the same treatment the staff they met from where they are coming from enjoy. The staff working here who are working for the federal government must be respected. They have the seal of authority of the president of this country. And they are seen as staff of the country, no matter which level, from cleaner to the highest person here.”
Consequently, he said a directive has been given for security to be beefed up at the airports “so that if there is anybody who is not complying, we will ensure such a person is taken out and handled accordingly.”
Utazi expressed satisfaction with the measures put in place by FAAN, Port Health Services, and airlines at the local wing of the airport in response to the pandemic, to guarantee the safety of travellers.
He called on the Ministry of Aviation and its Health counterpart to provide adequate funding for the agencies to ensure that the standards put in place are maintained, and that there is no shortage of hand sanitizers, PPE’s at the airports
The committee directed the operators of Mobak-Link Restaurant at the departure lounge of the airport to provide a tap with a censor to avoid customers touching it before they could wash their hands, and threatened to close down the restaurant if the changes were not affected by next week.
FAAN’s Regional Manager, Northern Operation, Sani Mahmud, who briefed the Committee on the various measures that have been introduced, noted that “No one is allowed entry without face masks and their bags properly sanitised.”
He said: “Social distancing is properly enforced, and as you can see, hand sanitizers are placed at every strategic location, and thumb-printing machines wiped after each use.”
He added that flight schedules have been adjusted to ensure that not many flights are being boarded at the same time, so that seats at the boarding hall are properly cleaned.
“We want to make sure that the seats are cleaned after each flight; so with the new schedule, we won’t be having many flights taking off at the same time.
“Once each of the flights arrive, we have people that have been trained to clean the cabin before the next passengers board and we also have people in-flight that have been trained to provide medical services when there is need for such,” Mahmud added.