FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, July 25, 2020/ — After being closed for four months, Sierra Leone’s only international airport is open again to foreign commercial flights.
To open Freetown International Airport (FNA) safely, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) last month conducted a capacity assessment to identify areas that need urgent support before the resumption of scheduled operations. IOM also undertook special training of Sierra Leonean “Frontliners,” the first officials to contact arriving travelers.
“The successful reopening of the Freetown International Airport depends on the level of preparedness of airport frontliners who are responsible for ensuring adherence to all public health measures, as well as safety of travelers,” explained Kunikazo Akao, Project Manager at IOM Sierra Leone.
Like most West African countries, Sierra Leone on 22 March closed its borders—including its airspace—to international passenger traffic to limit the spread of COVID-19. That, however, negatively impacted the country’s economy.
Moreover, the growing number of Sierra Leoneans stranded abroad and wishing to come home added pressure to reopen as soon as safety allowed. That spurred IOM to complete its assessment of 450 FNA workers, including immigration officials, airport authorities and customs officers. Most were trained on Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) and the use of updated airport COVID-19 measures to improve entry and exit health screening processes.
“These refresher trainings have provided airport personnel the requisite knowledge to take precautionary measures to reduce the possibility of infection and have the confidence to manage a suspected case,” said Moses Tiffa Baio, Director General of the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA).
A simulation exercise was carried out on Monday (20 July) to evaluate real-time preparedness and readiness of airport officials.
In addition to the training and simulation exercise, IOM also provided FNA with IPC materials and equipment including screening devices, handwashing stations, infrared thermometers, facemasks, and electronic sensor hand sanitizer dispensers. Additional equipment—such as wheelchairs for disabled passengers and rain canopies for arriving passengers—were provided as well
IOM has worked with the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority (SLCAA), the Sierra Leone Airport Authority (SLAA), the Ministry of Health and Sanitation (MOHS), the National Coronavirus Emergency Response Centre (NACOVERC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that all the necessary safety and public health measures are in place to detect potential cases of COVID-19 and prevent unwanted infections upon arrival and departure.
Since the confirmation of the first case of COVID-19 in Sierra Leone on 31 March, IOM has actively supported the Sierra Leonean Government through Points of Entry (POE) assessment and reinforcement including building the capacity of border officials, risk communication and community engagement, as well as the provision of thousands of personal protective equipment to COVID-19 frontliners and responders.
IOM’s support to Sierra Leone’s airport COVID-19 preparedness and the response was made possible with support from the Governments of Japan and Norway.