The Trials and Tribulations of travel in the age of #COVID19 / Part 3


(Posted 30th November 2020)

Coming to Europe from Uganda posed some logistical challenges but going back home to Uganda turned out to be actually worse.

But let me start at the beginning again …

When two and a half months ago Brussels Airlines got me into Brussels an hour and a half early and I walked up to the EU immigration desks – eerily empty compared to the loooong lines I was used to in the past – was I required to surrender a detailed Contact Locator Form to the Belgian officials.
If I was to stay in Belgium I would need to provide a detailed address and phone contact and proceed into a 14 day quarantine.
Thankfully was I able to show evidence of an immediate onward journey, which made me a transit passenger, and with proof of ticket and booking shown – and copied before being attached to my Contact Locator Form – was I able to proceed, pick my bags, go to the train station and hey presto was I on the road to Germany, the railroad for that matter.

While in the train and before approaching the German border between Liege and Aachen, was an announcement made about having to register online – the train had free high speed WiFi available – if coming from Belgium, which at the time already was on the list as a Corona hotspot in Europe alongside France and a few others. While checking out the site I learned that having come from Uganda – NOT on the list of hotspots at the time – and merely being in transit, i.e. not having actually stayed in Belgium, did I not fall into the category of travelers who had to oblige health and safety regulations and upon arrival home had to self quarantine.
Thanks for small blessings and journey mercies I thought, being able to immediately proceed with my various plans for the visit to the old country.

Yet, while here, did Germany herself face the full onslaught of a second wave of infections, much greater in numbers and more intense than anything seen earlier in the year. As I write, numbers have risen in just two months from my arrival date of around 700.000 cases to now over 1.055.000.

Federal and state governments jointly agreed some five weeks ago on a ‘Lockdown Light‘, forcing restaurants, bars and some other businesses to close – AGAIN – and also curtailing the number of people who could meet in a household, which included even the limitation of the number of households from which visitors were allowed. Family or not, that was literally overnight the rule and local police did promptly begin to follow complaints about parties being held indoors – including going to the grotesque extreme of trying to bust a pensioner’s coffee table at one location.

Wearing of masks was widened to also include city centres and farmers markets, while already in place for public transport and shops.

Three weeks down the line did new infection numbers stay high, prompting added regulations to be issued in regard of schools and learning institutions while further lockdown measures would very likely come into place on the 02nd of December or even earlier.

It would not affect me, not as far as Germany was concerned anyway, as I was going to leave for Belgium on the 24th of November – a change which could well result in jumping from the proverbial frying pan into the fire.

Belgium’s lockdown in contrast is one of the hard types, with a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m., with all but essential food shops, bakeries and butcheries, pharmacies and drugstores closed down and with the requirement to enter self quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in the country.

Hmmm … can I invoke being in transit again, despite planning to stay for a couple of nights? Can I enter, visit family and a new granddaughter and still be allowed to leave as planned and booked?

Notably, no one could or would answer that question, no one was able to define for me the maximum number of days which could constitute ‘transit‘ (I later found out it was meant for 48 hours) nor answer the question that, in case an airline does not fly to a destination on the day the transit period expires, how one is to be treated? Do I need to check in and sit on my suitcases in the terminal? Silly, I know, as the airline would of course not check me in for a flight two or three days down the line but a valid question regardless.

And of course there is that paragraph in the lockdown regulations which stipulates that a household may not receive more than 4 people who however then need to stay for 14 days in that household. How, if locked in like that, would I be able to get my mandatory PCR test done, which Uganda requires – not older than 72 hours at the time of landing in Entebbe – in order to be allowed back in. To get tested I had to leave the house and get back. Make it more difficult if that is at all possible. Most test centres in Belgium are literally overwhelmed, giving priority to cases referred to them by doctors while ‘regular testees‘ would then have to queue and ultimately wait for days for their results.

The option was the test centre at the international airport, located just outside the terminal, but to get there and back – as I needed to – would require to break quarantine, if it applied to me – and todate, while already back in Uganda, I am still waiting for an answer to that question.

Mindboggling comes to mind, more so as other hotspot countries have different rules and regulations and not two of the entire EU member states have the same unified approach.

Planning to travel to Europe anytime soon? Think hard and make sure you have the latest information at hand on lockdown rules and regulations for all the countries you intend to visit, and ascertain your status as a transit passenger when landing for instance in Brussels and then taking an onward flight or train to your final destination and the same again when traveling back to Brussels for the flight home. Corona there is no joke, no joke at all, and I recommend to wear a mask at all times except when in your home or your hotel room, wash hands as often as possible, sanitize your hands as often as possible and change clothes when coming home and put them in the laundry – I did that whenever possible with a splash of the local Dettol equivalent.

Well I am back home in Uganda and how it all worked out in the end you can read in the final part of the series next week …

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