Chris-Vincent Agyapong, on a flight to Ghana
I travelled to Ghana from the UK on 23 September 2020, and 8 days later left Ghana to the UK. I was in Ghana in February 2020—and returned on time before coronavirus finally changed air travel around the world. The preparation and requirements for these two travels, though having taken place in the same year and to the same destination, are completely different.
It has become more confusing and expensive to travel abroad now—compared to how air travel was before the lockdown of March 2020. This, therefore means, that only essential travels are worth it.
The COVID-19 Test Before Travelling
When Ghana opened its borders to air travel in September 2020, it came with a strict requirement that travellers flying into Ghana must provide a COVID-19 test travel certificate—as evidence that they do not have COVID-19 before they are allowed to board any flight heading to Ghana. This test must have been taken no more than 72 hours before the travel.
I took my test on Sunday, 20 September 2020 via Vivo Clinic in London and on Tuesday 22 September 2020, I received a negative PCR swab result with a certificate confirming that I was fit to travel via E-mail.
Of course, this test is not free—I paid £139 for the test and the accompanying certificate. The results arrived within 48 hours of testing.
Negative COVID-19 travel certificate
At Heathrow Airport
A few days to flying out, British Airways sent an E-mail informing me that the departure and arrival of my flight to and from Ghana had been moved from Terminal 3 to Terminal 5.
At Heathrow, everything was calm—and it looked almost like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie with only a few face-mask wearing human survivors. It was as if a deadly disease had wiped out a greater part of humanity with the few remaining travelling to see what remains of the other parts of the world.
I am not the kind to usually pay for Business Class but because I was not sure how economy seating arrangement was going to be like, I bought a Business Class ticket this time—and quickly checked in at the Club World/Priority desk at the airport.
Everyone had their mask on at the airport. It is compulsory to have your mask on—except for brief moments when you are eating or drinking.
It was during the check-in that the COVID-19 test certificate which had been issued to me was checked by the attendant. The attendant just looked at the printed certificate I presented to him and keyed into the system that I had taken a test within the stipulated time and the result is negative per the certificate.
Perhaps, it is due to the need to see this certificate that online check-in was impossible when I tried it.
There was no verification of the test certificate by the attendant and therefore I wondered how they would have ascertained if the certificate was fake. Later, I heard of community gossip that some Londoners were editing the names and details of people who had taken this test and presenting the certificates of these people at airport as theirs—without any problems.
Apart from the fact that such enterprise borders on serious criminality beyond the act of forgery—in the sense that you intentionally put the lives of others in danger, it is absurd to take such a risk because another test awaits you in Ghana when you arrive.
I do not think the aeroplane I was on board was even quarter full. The people who gathered at the boarding gate could swiftly be counted. Before boarding, we were given a leaflet issued by the government of Ghana requiring us to submit our details via a provided website link, as part of the health screening to be completed in Ghana.
On board, it was mandatory for everyone to wear a face-mask, for the duration of the entire flight. Passengers are only allowed to pull off their face-mask to eat and to drink.
The requirement to wear face-mask throughout the entire flight was somewhat uncomfortable. This is a big change to air travel.
Meal at Business Class–British Airways flight to Ghana
As a result of coronavirus, hot meals are no more being served on board, except tea and coffee. Cold meals were served in boxes at Business—making me wonder the kinds of paper wrapped foods that were thrown at those who sat in economy.
I did not witness any sort of social distancing, in terms of seating in Business Class. The empty seats, I believe, was as a result of the flight not being full.
At Kotoka International Airport
When the plane landed in Ghana, we were required to disembark in small groups to be able to adhere to the instituted social distancing protocols.
At Kotoka, I saw several erected cubicles. There were persons out there assisting passengers who had not already completed the health screening form online.
In order to retrieve a passenger’s online completed form, you are asked your passport number—and then your details are pulled out.
After this, you are asked to proceed to the next set of banking cubicles, to pay the “infamous” 150 dollars for the required antigen test. These cubicles are manned by staff members from First Atlantic Bank—I was later informed that this bank secured a contract from the government to process the payments for the test.
Once payment is made, you are given a bar code to proceed to the next set of cubicles where the test is taken. For this test, a kit is inserted into your nose—and the bar code holding your information is placed on the kit containing the obtained sample. It’s quick but very uncomfortable.
After testing, and while your result is pending/unknown, you are asked to proceed to the Immigration desk to continue with the usual arrival procedures.
You are made to join the usual queue and see an Immigration Officer. After dealing with the Immigration, you proceed to pick up your luggage, the usual manner.
It is when you have picked your bags and you are about exiting the airport that you will meet some mounted desks—where your passport number will be asked for so that your test result will be retrieved and given to you.
Though my test came out negative, I find it a little weird that passengers are allowed to come in contact with several employees of the Ghana Immigration Service and Airport staff before their test results are known. If one tests positive, that person would have at least come in contact with more than 10 people within the 30 minutes of having done the test and going about normal procedural business.
I find it difficult to see the sense in this protocol of letting a person whose test result is unknown to go through all arrival formalities and only make the result available at the exit gate.
Returning to the UK
When leaving Ghana to the UK, you are not required to take any COVID-19 related test. Apart from the mandatory wearing of face-mask at the airport and the observation of social distancing protocols, everything else remains the same.
Also, the Business lounge at Kotoka is closed because of COVID-19. I was saved by the grilled chicken I ate before going to the airport.
The UK government requires every passenger coming to the UK to complete a journey and contact form online within 48 hours of their arrival. This can be completed when you arrive at the airport in the UK but doing it before flying to the UK prevents unnecessary delay.
Since Ghana is on UK’s quarantine/self-isolation list, on arrival in the UK, you are required to self-isolate for 14 days at the provided address—breaking this rule attracts penalties, including fines up to £10,000.
So for the next 14-days, I am at home—working and self-isolating.