How pandemic has made international travel a pain for many

There are more restrictive measures facing African travelers whether in the Middle East or Europe.

In Summary

• There are obvious measures such as wearing a mask while within the airports, social distancing and constant sanitising when getting into facilities such as duty-free shops and restaurants.

• If you want to travel to the UK from Kenya for one week - like we are doing - it is practically impossible as you have to quarantine for 10 days on getting into the UK.

Dubai International Airport
Dubai International Airport
Image: OLIVER MATHENGE

If you were a frequent traveller out of Kenya before the pandemic and have not done so since, international travel has some pleasant surprises for you.

A trip to Europe this past weekend through Dubai illustrates how international travel has changed since the pandemic.

There are obvious measures such as wearing a mask while within airports, social distancing and constant sanitising when getting into facilities such as duty-free shops and restaurants.

But there are also other restrictive measures especially for travellers from Africa, where only about two doses of vaccine have been administered per 100 people.

Kenya, for instance, is still on the United Kingdom’s red list which makes it hard for Kenyans to access the European nation.

We are in London for the three-day official visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta where he is accompanied by Trade, Education, Defence, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Environment Cabinet Secretaries.

This includes the Global Partnership for Education Summit co-hosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

If you want to travel to the UK from Kenya for one week, like we are doing, it is practically impossible as you have to quarantine for 10 days on getting into the UK.

One is also required to take a Covid test on their second day and the eighth day before venturing into the streets of the UK.

However, there are exemptions for different categories of people but this must be accompanied by documentation from UK authorities.

We had to get a letter from the UK High Commission indicating the purpose of our visit and granting us exemption from mandatory quarantine and testing for Covid-19 on day two of being in the UK.

But even that letter is not enough to get you into the UK. We had to fill a passenger locator form that had a code which the airline had to enter into their system.

At JKIA, your Covid test certificate has to be scanned before you get into the entrance. 

It has to be scanned again at the check-in counters where they also require any other documentation as required by different destinations across the world.

Being on a connection flight through Dubai meant that the airline had to contact the UK home office to authenticate the exemption letter before we could check-in at JKIA.

We were not alone as we saw other passengers who had to be assisted by the airline crew to confirm the status of their travel and entry into their destinations.

One group had to have their Human Resource Manager confirm that they would quarantine in the hotel where they were to work in Dubai.

In addition, despite being fully vaccinated, I had to also take a Covid test, within three days before I boarded the plane to Dubai and then to the UK.

In Dubai, you have to present your Covid-19 certificate whether you are on transit or the UAE is your final destination.

Like many other international airports, masks and social distancing are compulsory measures at Dubai International Airport. There are also thermal and temperature measurements at the various counters and entrances.

On reaching Heathrow, those of us who had arrived with the plane from Dubai and were not connecting to other flights had to use a different terminal from where we disembarked.

The UAE is still on the UK's red list meaning that those whose flights originate from there must be vetted before getting into the UK.

At the Heathrow immigration desks, one has to present a negative Covid test certificate, a quarantine and test booking confirmation and a passenger locator form.

Those seeking exemptions like we did have to provide evidence in form of documents from both the Kenyan and UK authorities.

This information is then entered into a system and you are issued with an exemption slip that allows you to exit the airport into London.

This process of going through immigration having come from a red list country and transmitted through another took about four hours.

However, colleagues who used a different route through France had an easier time getting cleared at the immigration desk as there were no long queues compared to the 'red list' terminal.

In London, while most restrictions have been removed, most high-end hotels are still requiring that people wear masks. 

You will also find people wearing masks on public transport but not many are doing it on the streets.