OPINION: COVID-19 and international travel

A simple COVID PCR Test takes one minute to administer, but can take many days to arrange. Picture: SUPPLIED

Bula readers!

This week, I thought I would take you with me on my personal overseas travel experience from Suva to Brisbane during the pandemic with some staggering revelations. The trip has come about after I had been strongly advised by doctors to get a sports medical procedure taken care of on my neck where a nerve is being compressed by my spinal chord and reducing the overall movement in my left arm.

Travelling for the first time during this COVID-19 pandemic has its challenges and one of those is the escalating cost of travel. One classic example is getting a simple one minute COVID-19 PCR test. To obtain this I was advised that myself and my three children who are accompanying me on the trip could get this done at the government medical centre in Toorak, Suva.

After arrangements were made via e mail and telephone, it was then suggested that children under 18 may not need the COVID-19 PCR test and to check with the officials at Ministry of Health. I needed to clarify this and wrote a series of e mails to government officials and was given the correct information that everybody travelling required this test to make sure they were COVID-19 negative.

This was perfectly fi ne as I just wanted clarifi cation, so back to the Toorak Government Health centre to arrange the time and date for the COVID-19 PCR test. I was now told that the centre had stopped doing testing for travellers and maybe try the Oceania Private Hospital. I decided not to email the health officials again as I felt they were so tired and worn out, maybe I better find my own way through this. That was fine, so off I went to enquire with the Oceania Private Hospital.

After speaking to a friend of mine at the hospital, he advised me that they do the test, but they were still waiting for accreditation from the Ministry of Health. Until then their tests would be invalid for me. One would have thought after five months of COVID-19 testing this would have been sorted out, but that was fine I would just have to move on.

My next stop was Nasese Private Hospital, in Suva where finally this simple one-minute test could be done.

As we know nothing is simple in life as the cost for four simple tests was not $100 for all of us, not $500, not even $1000. It was a whopping $1200 to have the test done for the four of us and it was the same price in every other government and private medical institution across Suva.

Even more bizarre was we turned up bright and early to the Nasese Private Hospital for the COVID-19 test with credit card and handy card ready to pay. It was here we were told cash payments only as there is no banking, credit card or handy card facilities available.

This is the first hospital I have ever visited that deals strictly on a cash only basis. So off we went again to withdraw the large sum of $1200 in cash and only then were we permitted to have the test. For reference COVID-19 PCR tests at Mumbai, airport India are about $16 per a person and UNICEF’s rapid testing kits are even cheaper around the $7 mark and fully approved by the World Health Organization (WHO), but also appreciate costing vary. This is just one of many hidden financial and also very timeconsuming tasks people have to go through to get the simplest of jobs done.

Needless to say, this area needs to be drastically improved upon in both time management and cost. I have done a break down of the approximate costs for the four of us to travel to Brisbane for a few weeks and return.

 Four COVID-19 tests $1200;

 Flights Suva-Nadi-Brisbane return $27,000;

 Quarantine Australia $11,000;

 Accommodation Brisbane – $5000;

 COVID tests Australia $1200;

 Quarantine Nadi – $5000;

 Total costs – $ 50,400.

I realise this is a staggering amount to pay just to go on a short trip to Australia, but I am thankful that the insurance company are picking up about $15,000 of the travelling costs, but that still leaves a staggering $35,000 plus to pay for the privilege of travelling during this pandemic.

These are indications of what it costs today to travel, but we all hope and pray this changes rapidly over the next few days, weeks and months going forward as we prepare to welcome visitors from November 1, otherwise there will be some very serious questions to be asked.

Finally, I don’t believe any of the institutions mentioned here are to blame, in fact everyone from the medical personnel to the government employees are just doing there job during these very uncertain times, and I commend them for this.

The question is, can it be managed better, and the answer is absolutely yes, but hopefully going forward urgent changes will be made and these concerns will be addressed for the greater good of the country. Adios amigos until next week.

 AJAY BHAI AMRIT is a freelance writer. The views expressed in this article are his and does not necessarily reflect the views of this newspaper.

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