Recently in Kenya on a business trip, it was impressive to see digital coordination in action. We were armed with a UK PCR-negative Covid test and a completed Kenya Ministry of Health “Travellers Health Surveillance Form”, which allocates the bearer a personal QR code that facilitates and speeds up entry. On arrival in Nairobi just before entry into immigration, our QR codes were scanned and linked to the temperature screening camera. The stream of passengers arrives and their temperature is displayed on their foreheads on the screen, it would be easy to see if you were next to someone with a fever. Thus there was nothing to do at the many immigration counters than to show our visas, disembarkation to leaving in a taxi with our luggage took about 15 minutes.
In UK we are told there is no alternative to lockdown—everyone is gloomy and depressed by the ever worsening statistics and long-term lockdown outlook, but in Kenya the atmosphere is quite different. Smiling people observe social distancing and wear masks to go about their day. Kenya has a remarkably low fatality rate and high recovery rate, at the time of writing total recoveries stand at 82,729 and fatalities at 1,739, folks are not furious with their government for mismanaging the pandemic.
Returning to UK was more bureaucratic. A Covid test was performed in Nairobi 72 hours before departure, we received a negative certificate from the laboratory (LC) and a report from PanaBIOS, which is a great digital application built by African technologists and AI thinkers to provide bio-surveillance and bio-screening technology, data, and insights to enable the creation of Public Health Corridors within the broader African Union Open Corridors Initiative. Online we completed our UK government required Passenger Locator Form (PLF).
The new Kenya Airways Terminal 1A at Jomo Kenyatta is very disappointing in appearance. Opened in 2014, following the calamitous airport fire in 2013, it could have been a flagship of design but it is dingy and soulless, the chairs are uncomfortable and there is no air conditioning, but efficiency reigns. Following the usual luggage security checks, our cabin baggage was screened three times; British Airways staff checked our Covid certificates and PLFs at three separate stages.
On arrival in UK we found the automated bio-recognition gates closed, probably as travel corridors are temporarily suspended. The long queue at immigration was filled with British citizens travelling from Accra, many were unaware about the PLF and this delayed our entry; eventually we showed our negative certificates and PLFs to Border Control and were reminded to self-isolate for 10 days but our temperatures were not taken. Since then representatives from the government have twice confirmed that we are self-isolating. We have joined the Test to Release scheme, which allows us to take a PCR test after five days and with a negative result we are released from self-isolation, although this release makes no difference to our lockdown routine.
Covid-19 has lengthened and complicated the bureaucracy of international travel, but as Matt Hancock, UK Health Minister, cheerfully reminded the UK public not to book holidays abroad this year. Perhaps travel will be simpler in 2022.