Trials and Tribulations of Travel in the Age of COVID19 – Chapter 3 Part 1

TRAVELING OUT OF UGANDA – JUMPING THROUGH HOOPS AND NAVIGATING HURDLES REMAIN A CHALLENGE

(Posted 19th January 2021)

It is now just over a week since I left Uganda and if I want to narrate the latest travel and travel preparation experience, while memories are still fresh, it must be done now.
The main key to travel remains a negative PCR test, which I took at the same location as ahead of my first travel in October last year, the Kampala Hospital.

Unlike last time, when results came in by WhatsApp message in the space of just under 10 hours, it took nearly 36 hours to reach me this time. On the upside had the cost reduced to 280.000 Uganda Shillings, down 70.000 Uganda Shillings from the initial cost of 350.000 Uganda Shillings.

Receiving a hard copy I was told is ‘a bit difficult‘ so anyone wanting to travel right now, or needing to travel right now, will be left in a lurch as the internet was down over the election period – and no end in sight – and transmission of results unlikely to take place within the required timeframe.

Forewarned by the experience when travelling to France in December, I made sure I had a printed copy of my PCR test with me, two in fact – just in case another mind boggling change would have taken place.

On arrival at the airport, and when entering the health and safety check point – those in the queues outside remain exposed to the elements – did I again witness at least 6 travelers being told to go and find a printing facility, as they were obviously unaware that their certificate on their phone screen was worthless unless a hard copy could be provided. Airlines clearly are in default here for not warning passengers of this requirement as are authorities for not constantly issuing public notices that this is now required.

The queues were long and moving slowly – incredible as travelers, wearing masks notwithstanding, are crowded in a poorly ventilated tent and only as I just reached the checkpoint, did a 4th member of staff arrive to help process the long lines faster.

Again, an obstacle was created and little done to keep up the flow of passengers, almost typical of what Entebbe today stands for, a place where jumping through hoops and navigating hurdles is the order of the day.

Compared to my December experience were more check in counters available but as several flights checked in at the same time did the hall still appear too crowded for comfort.

Brussels Airlines’ staff, from the initial check of documents by staff from NAS to the actual check in, were in top form, unlike the experience in December, when their colleagues in blue underperformed by a mile, while Brussels Airlines did it all with their usual ‘S’mile …

Immigration desks too appeared understaffed, given the long lines of travelers queuing up there, reaching back into the check in hall, and the three officers I counted on duty at times of high volumes is simply not enough.

At least did the second security check point process travelers more swiftly with both scanners operating.

I was glad to reach the Karibuni Lounge where spacing was assured while in the public waiting areas passengers seemed too many for comfort. What one wonders happened the initial promises made in October to space flight departures and arrivals to avoid exactly that?

A Brussels Airlines staff came to the lounge, advising passengers that they could now board and indeed there were only a handful of passengers left at the gate checkpoint before being guided to the aircraft.

I filed my flight review via TripAdvisor so just click on the link for access: https://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowUserReviews-g1-d8729040-r780950579-Brussels_Airlines-World.html

Also check out a Brussels Airlines flight review by renowned aviation blogger and vlogger Josh Cahill
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y5Gw5Hzq3pY&t

Arrival in Brussels, compared to October 2020 when it was the proverbial walk in the park, this time was very very different.
The COVID19 PCR test was expeditiously studied and dates and times ascertained before I was asked for the Passenger Locator Form, which I promptly surrendered at immigration. When the explanation started about quarantining, I cut in, showed my train ticket to Germany which indicated an immediate connection out of the airport train station and that duly copied and attached to the PLF and one copy of my PCR test – thankfully I had made two – was I let go.

The inevitable delay at immigration, which also functioned as a health check point, meant that my suitcase was already on the baggage band so I could pick it and move out, or so I thought.
Customs was in appearance in full swing and bags had to go through a scanner before, as I witnessed in most cases, had to be opened for inspection.
Cleared in a swift and friendly manner was I finally able to go landside, to the elevators and made it to the waiting train for my Intercity connection at Brussels Noord.

There, once on the train, were announcements made in German – it was a German ICE service – but also in French, English and Flemish/Dutch to the effect that if not registered already for entry into Germany, one should use the free WiFi on board of the train and register now, as in NOW.

Again, as Uganda is not a hot spot country by the definition of the EU, and as I was only in direct transit from the airport to the German border in between Liege and Aachen, there was no need for me to register, being specifically excluded and exempted according to the German government Corona website for citizens and foreign nationals entering the Federal Republic.

https://www.einreiseanmeldung.de/#/

https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/InfAZ/N/Neuartiges_Coronavirus/Risikogebiete_neu.html

Every country in Europe now has such advisories and established websites travelers can access to get the latest information, and regular checks show that indeed updates are processed almost immediately governments and health regulators decide on changes, so travelers are urged to keep checking on such updates and not take it for granted that information accessed for instance at the time of testing in Kampala will be the same when boarding a flight or landing at the other end.

The trains from Belgium to Germany and within Germany were largely empty, a strange feeling considering that weekend trains, especially on a Saturday, were in the past packed to the rafters, at times only with standing room when all seats were booked.
Now, in contrast, are the seat signs clearly indicating that one seat in a row of 2 ought to remain empty, normally the aisle seat. Deutsche Bahn seems to have understood that in times of lower occupancies they must play a part to assure the traveling public, and not just enforce physical distancing at train stations but also provide for the same on the trains.

What stark contrast to my December flight from Amsterdam to Toulouse, when the airline – equally enforcing physical distancing on the ground – packed their Embraer E190 aircraft with passengers, leaving no wriggle room leave alone provide for distancing while getting on to the aircraft, while on the aircraft and while getting off.

Since my arrival, and it goes to underscore the advice given a few paragraphs ago, have lockdown regulations across Europe changed, and keep changing, and in Germany a complete and total lockdown is looming from later this week, restricting movements unless to the pharmacy, shops for food – other shops are closed and can in select cases only organize for collection of ordered items – bakeries, butcheries and banks. Communal and other government offices are open though prefer to avoid face time by encouraging ‘visitors’ to go virtual to attend to their business.

My advice would be in closing, travel only if virtual visits or meetings are not possible, until infection prevalence in Europe, and in America, has considerably reduced, because the new strains, with infection ratios up by as much as 70 percent, are no joke. Remember, it is not just your health but also those of your family around you.

Stay home, stay well and stay safe.

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