VERDICT: OUTRIGHT LIE
On Sunday, President Akufo Addo addressed the nation on measures taken to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his address, the President announced the re-opening of Ghana’s air borders on September 1 and outlined a number of measures. Among the measures, passengers who enter the country are required to have proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test and are mandated to undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival at the Kotoka International Airport. The next day, the government convened a press briefing to provide further information about the arrangements.
At that press briefing, deputy health minister Dr. Bernard Okoe-Boye justified the 150 dollar cost for the COVID-19 test to be done at the airport by making comparisons with what pertains in other countries. He mentioned a number of countries including Togo and Zimbabwe.
Specifically, the deputy minister said the cost of the PCR test in Togo is 150 euros while in Zimbabwe persons pay 210 dollars for the test
Dr. Oko Boye said: “when you go to a place like Zimbabwe, you will about 210 dollars for the test. Now when you go Togo here, you will pay about 150 euros, not dollars”
Starrfmfactchecker limited the verification of this claim to the specific countries mentioned by the deputy health minister. Before anything, it is important to provide some explanation about COVID-19 testing.
Type of COVID-19 tests around the world:
Tests for COVID-19 are categorized in three types namely PCR test, antigen test and antibody (serology) test. PCR stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction and is a test that looks for bits of the SARS-CoV-2 which is the virus that causes the COVID-19 in the nose and other areas of the respiratory tract. It determines if a person has an active infection.
Antigen test looks for pieces of the protein that constitutes the SARS-CoV-2 virus to determine if a person has an active infection. An antibody test is a serological test that looks for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in the blood to determine if there has been a past infection. Although both PCR and Antigen tests determine if there’s an active infection of the COVID-19, PCR is more expensive and takes more time than the antigen test. Source: https://www.dshs.state.tx.us/coronavirus/docs/COVID19-PCRvsSerologyTesting.pdf
Again PCR tests are typically highly accurate and usually do not need to be repeated. For Antigen tests, positive results are usually highly accurate but negative results may need to be confirmed with a molecular test. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/coronavirus-testing-basics
A number of countries are conducting COVID-19 testing at airports; Iceland, France, Germany, Russia, China among others. https://www.nsmedicaldevices.com/analysis/covid-19-testing-airports/
Ghana’s testing regime:
Travellers arriving into Ghana since the resumption of passenger flights on September 1 are required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken not more than 72 hours before the scheduled departure from countries. On arrival, all passengers will undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing. This test according to deputy health minister Dr. Bernard Okoe-Boye should not last more than 30 minutes and will come at a cost of 150 dollars to be borne by the passenger.
The type of testing being done at the Kotoka International Airport is the antigen test. Government officials say the amount of 150 dollars was reached upon a careful analysis of what happens elsewhere in other countries. In defending the price, the deputy health minister mentioned Zimbabwe, China, Togo, Benin and Nigeria. Starrfmfactchecker sought to verify the costs for tests in these countries as mentioned by the Deputy Health Minister.
WHAT HAPPENS IN TOGO?
The number of COVID-19 cases: Togo confirmed its first case of the COVID-19 on March 6 2020. As of September 2, 2020, the Africa Center for Disease Control reported that the country had one thousand four hundred and sixteen total confirmed cases, twenty-eight deaths and one thousand and thirty-five recoveries. (https://africacdc.org/covid-19/)
Status of International Travel: The government of Togo announced the closure of all borders with immediate effect on Friday, March 20, 2020. All non-essential inbound and outbound traffic and travel was prohibited per that order with only cargo allowed into the country. https://www.garda.com/crisis24/news-alerts/326281/togo-authorities-shut-borders-put-four-cities-on-lockdown-march-20-update-2 , https://www.ippf.org/blogs/covid-19-impact-what-we-know-so-far-togo
International and domestic flights resumed in Togo on August 1, 2020, with the announcement of COVID-19 protocols.
First, all travellers both departing and arriving are mandated to register and fill an online traveller declaration form on the government’s website www.voyage.gouv.tg. Any traveller departing from Lomé must undergo a COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours before departure. A laboratory dedicated to screening passengers departing from Lomé is set up in the enclosure of the old terminal of Gnassingbé Eyadema International Airport (AIGE) for COVID-19 screening tests.
Again any passenger entering Lome has to present a negative PCR test dating less than 5 days before boarding. Upon arrival, the passenger is subjected to another PCR test. Source: https://voyage.gouv.tg/. For this purpose, he must complete the online form available on www.voyage.gouv.tg and pay the cost of the said test before their departure. The on-site PCR test that passengers undergo at the airport upon arrival is CFA 40,000 which is equivalent to 72 US dollars and approximately £55. Source: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/togo/entry-requirements,
All travellers must install TOGO SAFE. It is a contact tracing application which must be installed upon arrival at the Lomé Airport. It is mandatory for the app to remain activated for at least 30 days. Passengers who do not install the app are quarantined in a containment facility provided by the government for at least 14 days. The cost of the quarantine is borne by the traveller. https://www.balglobal.com/bal-news/togo-covid-19-flights-resume-travel-requirements-announced/ Test results arrive within 24 hours. Those with positive test results will be required to self-isolate either at home or at a government facility until they test negative. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/togo/entry-requirements
From the foregoing facts, the Starrfmfactchecker finds the claim made by Deputy Health Minister that passengers pay 150 euros for the test false. The cost of the on-site PCR test done at Lomé Airport is less than 100 euros.
WHAT HAPPENS IN ZIMBABWE
The number of COVID-19 cases: Zimbabwe reported its first case of the novel coronavirus on 21st March 2020. It now has a cumulative case count of six thousand, five hundred and fifty-nine cases, deaths stand at two hundred and three while two hundred and forty-one persons have recovered from the COVID-19 ( https://africacdc.org/covid-19/)
Status of International Travel: On Monday, March 24, 2020, Zimbabwe’s President Emerson Mnangagwa announced the closure of the country’s borders to all human traffic except for returning residents and cargo. He announced then that returning residents will be subjected to strict screening procedures including a 21-day self-quarantine. Source: https://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1183572.shtml
At the moment, Zimbabwe is closed for passenger flights. Only Zimbabwean nationals are allowed into the country. Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa says “the plan is to start with the resumption of domestic flights and then move to international flights” adding that “Government is finalizing on modalities for the reopening of airports to support the resumption of the tourism sector” http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-09/02/c_139336251.htm
Since Zimbabwe’s air borders are still not opened for international flights, protocols only relate to returning citizens. Starrfmfactchecker checked with Zimbabwe’s Health Ministry about COVID-19 arrangements for returning citizens. An official from the Epidemiology and Disease Control(EDC) department told Starr Fm’s correspondent in Zimbabwe that citizens who arrive are to be tested. The official, however, added that government facilities do not have the capacity to test at the moment so persons are referred to private centres to do the test.
The cost of the test is therefore dependent on the institution where the test is done. The Health Ministry says it is not aware that persons are charged 210 US dollars to take the COVID-19 test at these private centres although in the past some persons have taken the test at a cost of 65 US dollars.
The EDC official says travellers can either be quarantined at government institutions or private institutions. Starrfmfactchecker did an online search about private institutions offering COVID-19 packages, below is the one from the Bronte, The Garden Hotel, Harare, Zimbabwe
From the above, it is not true that passengers are made to pay 210 dollars to take the COVID-19 test in Zimbabwe as is being claimed by the Deputy Health Minister. Zimbabwe’s government has not yet made a decision about when to allow international flights. The only persons allowed to enter Zimbabwe currently are citizens who are referred to private facilities to take the test when they enter the country at a cost that is not determined by the government but by the private facilities.
Again Starrfmfactchecker finds the comparisons made by Dr. Bernard Oko Boye to be misleading especially in the case of Togo where the on-site COVID-19 test is done is the Gold standard PCR test known to be more expensive than the antigen test being done at the Kotoka International Airport.
Starrfmfactchecker therefore rates Dr. Bernard Oko Boye’s claim that Passengers who arrive in Togo pay 150 euros for the PCR test and those in Zimbabwe pay 210 dollars as an outright lie. And is given two stars.