‘Corona’ screening: My experience in Nigeria, USA

‘Corona’ screening: My experience in Nigeria, USA

Friday, March 27, 2020 4:43 pm


By Emmanuel Ogebe
I’d only been out of the US a week but my experience upon reentry was the worst I had seen anywhere!
When I landed in Paris airport on Tuesday last week, I noticed the massage parlor in the travel lounge was shut for health reasons.
The self-serve buffet was cordoned off as a staffer dished out your meal instead. I watched on the news the city on lock down before I boarded my connection to Nigeria.
At the Abuja airport, we filled out comprehensive forms with health questions, travel routes and contact info.

We then were interviewed individually by a health screener in a hallway in two orderly queues with each person standing back at whatever distance they felt comfortable with away from the person in front.

People on wheelchairs wanted to circumvent the queue but whereas one screener agreed to this, she berated her colleague for violating the three-meter rule by coming up to the rope boundary to talk to the wheelchair passenger.

Screening in Nigeria

Fast forward a week later to Tuesday March 24 when I flew back into the US.

At the airport, I was required , strangely enough, to use the immigration machines. After running my barehands on it and it’s failing to recognize my documents, I was referred to an immigration counter.

The immigration officer asked me to fingerprint with my barehands on his grimy palm reader device. I asked him if he had any sanitizer. He didn’t.

I did the fingerprinting on the grimy screen where hundreds would touch and had touched that day alone. He searched and found a tiny sliver of a wipe which he handed to me.

“I was very careful on the plane,” I quipped,” I wiped everything down.”

Maybe because of my response, he referred me for health screening. I had only been gone a week and had not been in any high-prevalence countries so I wasn’t sure what profile flagged me.

Three of us were taken to an immigration office where there were already 2 people. In 20 minutes the room was packed with about 20 people!

By 30 minutes, people began to grumble.
“This is less organized than the third world.”
“This is a violation of the rule of 20.”
An immigration officer came and told us that they were awaiting the CDC and he didn’t know how to take our temperature.
45 minutes later, two women in masks came in. They said they were not CDC but could help get started by taking our temperatures. We agreed.
The women complained that the room was too crowded and urged us to maintain social distancing…
After 50 minutes, the CDC arrived. There was no order or lines discernible.
I submitted my form to them. The form had asked if I had been to China. I hadn’t.
I had left the US the week before and connected through Paris to Abuja Nigeria.
As at the time of my arrival, there was no corona case in Abuja. There were two in the southern city of Lagos and they both recovered and were discharged.
Days before I left, three cases were reported in the city of Abuja and the first related death recorded. Another suspected death – a sick American who’d  traveled to Nigeria from Virginia and infected his chauffeur – was from other conditions.
From Abuja, I transited through Istanbul airport to JFK.
Essentially the most high risk locations I had been in the entire one week trip were the US from which I departed and to which I was now returning.
The immigration officer was not impressed when I’d pointed that out.
The CDC asked me a question. No temperature taken and we were done in 30 seconds.
There was a two trillion dollar stimulus deal in congress but no effective screening response at the frontline gateway to the virus at New York which is now ground zero of infections.

How could we be more competent at caging kids at border walls than at screening passengers at airport borders?

I had been in Nigeria and Ghana the month before. Since my earlier trip last month, the Abuja airport now had a huge thermal machine that captured your temperature after you’d crossed the screening interview.

In Ghana, the country had now imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival. Passengers were chauffeured, quartered and monitored at government expense.

There had been no US screening last month when I returned. I guess this time around was supposed to be an improvement…

As I scurried away to catch my connection to DC, I looked at the document CDC had given me and couldn’t miss the irony:
“You have traveled to a country with an outbreak of COVID19 and are at higher risk.”

As at today, the US infection rate is the largest globally at over 80,000 and 1000 deaths. Nigeria has 46 infected and ONE (1) death.

I went into self-isolation when I got to DC – because I had been in New York in a cramped room with 20 people for an hour waiting to be screened by the CDC.

Emmanuel Ogebe, an international human rights lawyer specialising in Africa lives in the USA

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