‘Additional COVID-19 Testing Fee Hindering Trade and Movement in West Africa’ – ECOWAS Ambassador to Liberia Discloses
MONROVIA – The Special Representative of the President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to Liberia, Ambassador Babatunde Ajisomo, has underscored the need for coherence and harmonization in the fees being charged travellers for Covid-19 test by authorities of countries in the region.
Authorities of several countries in the region including Liberia, Ghana and Sierra Leone, among others are charging separate fees for Covid-19 test to travellers departing and arriving into their respective countries.
But according to Ambassador Ajisomo, separate fees charged by member states of ECOWAS for Covid-19 testing has become a major concern for citizens and foreign friends or investors who intend to do businesses in those countries.
He made these comments recently when he spoke at the opening of a three-day training aimed at strengthening the capacity of law enforcement operatives from Mano River Union (MRU) countries at the Farmington Hotel in Margibi County.
The training of trainers was also intended to enhance the thorough and scrupulous implementation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Free Movement Manual has begun in Liberia.
Ambassador Ajisomo pointed out that most people are finding it very difficult to travel to and from ECOWAS nations as a result of the disparity in the fees being charged for Covid-19 test in these countries.
His comments were in direct response to a concern raised by Ivorian Ambassador accredited to Liberia during the training.
“The Ivorian Ambassador wanted to know what is ECOWAS doing or what is ECOWAS going to do with respect to the payment of Covid-19 test which has become a concern for everybody including the operatives, our friends and investors that want to come and invest. People are finding it very difficult to travel”.
He pointed out that lots of monies are being paid by citizens of ECOWAS countries as well as other foreign nationals who are subjected to Covid-19 whenever they travel to and from countries in the region.
Ambassador Ajisomo made specific reference to the Head of ECOWAS Technical Team who came to Liberia to support the National Elections Commission (NEC) ahead of the December 8, 2020 senatorial election.
He disclosed that while in Liberia, the ECOWAS’ official had to rush to Ghana for a “quick emergency”.
“She needed to do a test and we got in contact with the relevant authorities and they were able to allow her to do the test. As soon as she arrived in Ghana, she called me and said ‘I am also doing another test in Ghana’. She’s only spending two to four days in Ghana but when she comes back again, she will also do a test and it cost the payment of a lot of money”.
Call for harmonization
Ambassador Ajisomo further stressed that the Covid-19 testing fees must be harmonized to help boost trade and make
“In Ghana it’s US$150, in Liberia it’s US$75. There is a need for harmonization and the need for us to look forward to reduce our burden instantly so as to facilitate trade; so as to make life easier for us”.
According to him many countries in the region are not yet on par with other countries across West Africa, and as such, the situation must be looked into and addressed adequately.
“We the developing countries are still very much behind and therefore, our governments must look into this. This is also affecting us. Every time we travelled, we are worried that we are not just going to do the test, but we are also going to spend lot of money to do the test”.
Protection for migrants
Speaking further, Ambassador Ajisomo noted that with the recent Covid-19 pandemic, migrants of ECOWAS extraction are considered amongst the most dynamic and entrepreneurial members of communities and hence needs more protection from the virus within the region.
He pointed out that in line with this, ECOWAS has developed guidelines on the harmonization and facilitation of cross border trade and transport and mitigation of health risks in the ECOWAS region on the COVID-19 pandemic and related post-recovery actions.
Ambassador Ajisomo added that the fact that ECOWAS countries are countries of origin and destination of labour mobility to other parts of the African continent and beyond also makes imperative the need to ensure a safe, orderly and regular manner.
The concerns raised by Ambassador Ajisomo comes few days prior to the release of new COVID-19 testing protocols released by the Government of Liberia in a bid to help prevent further local transmission of the virus.
The Liberian government announced that as of December 1, 2020, all travelers will be required to pay a fee of US$75 as testing fee in order to have their samples taken.
All travelers are to also download and complete a Health Screening Arrival Form from the Liberia Travel Application App on either Google Play store or the Apple Store link to access the form.
The guidelines, published by the Ministry of Health, require all ‘non-exempt” incoming and outgoing travelers to be tested for the disease. These measures also require the “exempt” travelers to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test result from an accredited lab within 96 hours of testing.
The new travelers’ protocols, released on Monday, November 23, 2020, makes it mandatory for all travelers to complete a symptom tracker form, the wearing of mask (including for those in transit and arriving), and the payment of the US$75 fee.
The new Travelers protocols also require that the National Public Health Reference Lab tests all non- exempt travelers for COVID-19. Exempt travelers who do not have a valid negative COVID-19 test result will also be tested.
The Ministry of Health says travelers who test PCR positive for COVID-19 will undergo treatment based on Liberia case management guidelines while travelers who test negative are to self-quarantine and monitor their symptoms via the Liberia Travel App for a period of 14 days, beginning the day after their arrival in Liberia.
The government encourages all travelers to fully read the entire guidelines in order to be abreast with these measures as prerequisite for traveling in and out of the country.