Features

Back in the air!

By Folu Olamiti, FNGE

Pelican Brief

To many frequent air travelers around the world, the year 2020 was a horrible one. It was the year of the great plague. It was the year the deadly corona virus, labelled COVID-19 by the United Nations, crept on the world like a boar constrictor, stretched it to its limits, and attempted to snuff its life out. The pandemic was so deadly in its effects that citizens of the world were caged in their homes. All over the world, human traffic and all sorts of movements were either partially restricted or outrightly barred. World economies crumbled. Even America, the world’s number one economy, was at its knees, crying for divine intervention.

Tourism and allied industries collapsed. Life came to a standstill. In the history of mankind, the novel corona virus generated so much panic and such gripping tension that many thought the end of the world had come. Few travellers, no matter how much addicted to flying, dared confront the unseen enemy. The fear of COVID-19 marked the beginning of wisdom for millions of travellers across the globe.

For the first time in my adult and working life, my yearly vacation abroad hit a brick wall. It went comatose. I recall that I tweeted in May last year that: “COVID-19 is here to stay…The only solution to fight it is to confront the menace physically (using the recommended non-pharmaceutical measures), and then back it up with fasting and praying.”

Did our prayers work? As a Christian, as a Knight of the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion, I fervently believe the effectual prayers of the Saints availed much for the world on the rampaging pandemic. That is an issue for another day.

Back to where I digressed: transportation was badly hit. Airlines and vehicular traffic were totally crippled in 2020. And when there was a glimmer of hope in 2021, the agent provocateurs came up with another scary resurgent theories one of which christened Delta Variant. Countries that were relaxing their lockdown orders started to tinker with another round of total lockdown protocols.

Nigeria that has no empirical data for COVID-19 sufferers in the country also announced its readiness to join countries like Britain, Germany, Canada, India and many others, in preparing for another lockdown. But thanks to some knowledgeable Nigerians who stood against the move, insisting that cut-and-paste remedies would not work in the fight against the deadly virus. There must be original home-grown solutions.

Strangely, the hitherto escalated figures of the COVID-19 pandemic infections and victims started to crash; dramatically. Even as I punch my laptop to write this piece, the statistics have remained low. Except in few places like Lagos where there appears to be a new wave that has been attributed to improper management of arrivals from foreign countries where the new variant of the virus, Delta , had been detected.

But with the coming of vaccines designed to blunt and possible kill the virus, the world has gradually regained a semblance of normalcy. Human activities have resumed. People are on the move again. Even my humble self, who had been scared to my marrows to fly, decided to shake off the phobia and fly again.

But did I really have a choice? Absolutely none. Reason? There were serious family issues begging for my attention. Consequently, I decided to take the plunge and fly again. With my absolute faith in the Lord, I began the process. It was then I knew of the many hurdles one needed to cross to qualify an intending traveller.

First, you have to take two doses of COVID-19 vaccines.  More importantly, you have to go for COVID test 72 hours to your journey. And the test must be negative before you can be given the clean bill to travel. But here comes the disgraceful ‘Nigerian Factor’. For instance, if you go to any government hospital or medical centre where you pay so little  for the test, the results won’t be out until after two weeks. But if you visit any of the private centres permitted to conduct the test — and they are springing up virtually everywhere — you will pay N40,000 (forty thousand naira) for the test and you will get your result in less than 12 hours. Wait for this: I reliably gathered that most of these private centers are operating with the active connivance of some top government officials! Did you say: Naija, we hail o!? Well, that is our Nigeria; our usual way of corrupting a service that is supposedly free, and  is so important for the sustenance of life. It has now  become a sort of oil block for some who have now turned it to a profit-making business.

Anyway, I went through the rigours only to be suddenly  confronted with the choice of airlines. My destination is America. And to travel through Europe, you must be either a citizen or you have had your two doses of COVID vaccine, which means your 72 hours COVID test clearance would not meet your reservation.

Thank God, I got my reservation on Ethiopian airlines three months ahead of my travel but at cut throat price. This was a direct result of a sharp upsurge in air travel as soon as restrictions were relaxed. On the day I went for my COVID test, I got to the centre around 9a.m. It was like Oyingbo market. I met a long queue of prospective travelers.  And I was sure not all of them would get negative results. Curiously, there was this understanding that only those with visible positive symptoms would have to cancel their trip. That hung a big question mark on the transparency of the process.

Let’s set that aside.

The Ethiopian airline I took from Abuja was filled to the brim en-route Addis Ababa. I learnt same went for another Ethiopian airlines  from Lagos. This airline operates two flights daily from Nigeria. A bigger  B777/300 airbus was on ground for the connecting flight from Addis Ababa to the United States. The airbus was also filled to capacity.

The flight from Addis Ababa had a stop-over in Dublin. It took off 45 minutes later, after picking some passengers to Dulles International Airport in Washington.  Total flying hours were 17 hours. I got to Dulles at exactly 5.30 a.m. local time; waited till 3.45 p.m. for my connecting flight, aboard United Airlines, to Houston. Flying time was three and half hours. In all, it took me 30 hours to reach my last destination!

Michelle Chester, director of employee health services at Northwell Health Inc., holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the Queens borough of New York, U.S., on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. The first Covid-19 vaccine shots were administered by U.S. hospitals Monday, the initial step in a historic drive to immunize millions of people as deaths approach the 300,000 mark. Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg via Getty Images

However, the most interesting part of the trip was the bubble of activities at the airports in Abuja, Lagos, Addis Ababa, Dublin and Dulles. America has relaxed her COVID-19 regulations but ordered strict  vaccination for  her citizens.  Everywhere you turn to, you find COVID-19 vaccination and Test Centres.  You just drive in and get tested free of charge, and pronto, the results are out! With this relaxation, many Americans are taking back their lives by moving freely after getting the two jabs.

Though many are mindful of the fact that wearing a mask is a sure way to keep the deadly virus away, many Republican States are kicking against the mask mandate; for political reasons; specifically, for the love of Donald Trump. Sadly, some Republicans, majorly Trump supporters who had thrashed the Mask Mandate of President Joe Biden, have succumbed to COVID-19. They got infected and died. Very sad.

Notwithstanding the conspiracy against mask wearing, interstate flights have resumed fully but with strict instructions of making wearing of mask all through the duration of the flight compulsory. For the airlines, the policy is: mask up or be deboarded.

In the past four weeks, I have crisscrossed several American cities, moving  from Houston  to Atlanta;  to California, Maryland and Ohio. I can tell you the Americans are destroying the conspiracy theories surrounding  possible spike of another virus christened Delta variant. When the noise was getting too loud the Biden administration slammed compulsory wearing of masks in public places, schools  and at homes. The good news is that this new variant is not claiming lives as it was with COVID-19,  which goes to show that physical war against these viruses can be caged with strict compliance with health regulations. The Americans are living their normal lives again.  Some are screaming themselves hoarse: “To hell with the Delta variant! If we give in to this, how are we sure another one will not surface again. Are we going to go on like this ad infinitum? Forever? Never!”

Notwithstanding this latest development,  many Nigerians and Americans are glad to be back in the air. However we should be mindful of dangerous viruses which are daily flying around — be it Delta, Rivers, Kogi, Zamfara variants whichever names they brand them- let us keep strictly to the health regulations . You can’t get cleared in any airport without your COVID test and clearance from CDC from Nigeria as part of  travelling documents.

Once again passengers are back, flying to savour nature’s wonders up, up in the sky. They are back, flying, sometimes, 40,000 feet above sea level, marveling at the creative power of God. If you ask me, nothing tastes better than having your life back. And humanity is gradually having its humanness back.

Glory be to God for giving us science and scientists. God bless our scientists and doctors. May they and their families never be afflicted by COVID-19. And may God help us send back the pandemic to where it belongs – hell.

Folu Olamiti is a renowned Nigerian veteran journalist and Publisher of Newspot online newspapers

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