Before anyone judges me for the title of this blog post I want to clarify that I am currently not traveling. I am being socially responsible as I am in a self-quarantine mode in Florida after flying back to the U.S. from Rwanda on March 17. I am writing this blog post to share my immigration experience while I was crossing borders and flying to 5 different countries from the end of January until mid-March (I started traveling shortly after the coronavirus outbreak was announced).
For the past 7 weeks, I have traveled from the USA to 4 countries in East Africa and back to the USA all while the coronavirus Pandemic has been taking place. Ever since the virus outbreak, I have cleared immigration at 3 international airports and at 2 international border crossings. I have been screened for the coronavirus at every immigration checkpoint except one. The only country which has NOT SCREENED ME FOR CORONAVIRUS HAS BEEN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
I arrived at the Dar es Salaam International Airport in Tanzania at the end of January and my temperature was taken before I could clear immigration. Three weeks later when I crossed the border from Tanzania to Kenya my temperature was also taken. It was a requirement to have my temperature taken in order to enter both Tanzania and Kenya and if I had a fever I would have been denied entry into these countries.
On March 3rd I flew from Nairobi to Kigali where I received an intense coronavirus screening. Prior to clearing immigration, I had to wait in line in order to be screened by a health official. I was asked questions about where I had traveled within the past few weeks and I was asked if I had any coronavirus symptoms such as a dry cough or difficulty breathing.
The health official in Kigali, Rwanda told me that my temperature had been taken and confirmed I did not have a fever. I asked him how my temperature was taken since he was not holding a thermometer. He pointed to a large object about 20 feet away and explained that the device was capturing the temperature of all arriving passengers. I had no idea that such technology even existed!
After arriving in Rwanda I crossed the border into Uganda the next day for my gorilla trekking tour.
I was very impressed with the amount of health screening that was taking place at the Rwanda and Uganda border. Not only were the Uganda government officials screening for ebola but they were screening for the coronavirus and if I had a high temperature I would have been denied entry into the country.
After my gorilla trekking tour in Uganda, I returned to Rwanda and my temperature was taken prior to crossing the border once again. I remained in Rwanda for one week before I was supposed to fly to Kampala, Uganda where I was going to explore a new part of the country. Unfortunately, I was unable to fly and return to Uganda as the government closed the borders to 16 different passport holders including U.S. citizens.
It was at this point, I decided I needed to leave Africa one month early and book a flight back to the U.S. Trump had just announced a travel ban on flights returning to the U.S. from Europe (although American citizens were allowed to return) and I started becoming worried that I might get stuck in East Africa since so many flights returning to my country had layovers in Europe.
I booked a one-way flight on Qatar Airways leaving Kigali, Rwanda on Monday, March 16th and arriving in the U.S. on Tuesday, March 17th. My total travel time from Kigali to Orlando was 30 hours with two layovers in Doha and NYC. Prior to entering the airport in Rwanda, there were health officials who were conducting coronavirus screenings. My temperature was taken and I would have been refused to board an aircraft if I had a fever.
Considering what I had experienced clearing immigration in 4 different countries in East Africa I just assumed I would also be screened for the coronavirus when I returned to the U.S. Moreover, there were media reports warning travelers that they should expect long lines and delays at U.S. airports due to coronavirus checkpoints.
Unfortunately, this was not my experience when I arrived at JFK airport in NYC. When I was boarding my flight from Doha to NYC an airline attendant handed me a United States Traveler Health Declaration Form. The attendant advised that all travelers returning to the United States needed to declare our potential exposure to the coronavirus as well as any symptoms we might have.
I filled out the Traveler Health Declaration form but when I arrived in NYC no one asked me for this form. Not one passenger on my flight was asked to turn in this form. No one in immigration asked me or any other passengers about any potential coronavirus symptoms, and unlike my immigration experiences in Africa, there were not any health officials taking temperatures.
I just traveled to 4 countries in East Africa where my temperature was taken and I would have had a fever I would have been denied entry into the country. Even when I was leaving Rwanda there were health officials at the airport taking temperatures and if someone had a fever they would have been denied entry into the airport. The government in Rwanda didn’t want anyone leaving if that meant they would spread the virus to other passengers on a flight.
Needless to say, I was shocked that my own country is allowing travelers to arrive on a flight with hundreds of people from around the world with no questions asked. Since I have Global Entry I was able to clear immigration in approximately 5 minutes. I was only asked where I traveled to and then I was told: “Welcome back to the United States.”
The U.S. government let me walk through immigration in minutes without screening me and checking my temperature which is completely reckless and dangerous. Our government might have every excuse right now as to why there aren’t enough coronavirus tests but there is no excuse for not being able to screen every passenger that arrives in the U.S. If I had cleared immigration with the virus I could have infected everyone on my flight to the U.S., I could have infected some of the immigration officials, as well as other passengers and airport workers I came across at the JFK airport while on my layover. Moreover, I had one more connecting flight at this point and I could have infected those on my flight from NYC to Orlando!
There are no excuses for this. It doesn’t matter that I was traveling from a region where the virus didn’t exist for most of my trip (the first case of the virus was only announced in Rwanda 2 days before my departure). The virus probably existed already in the country since not everyone is getting tested and I was just on 2 different flights for over 20 hours where I could have been exposed to the virus.
Considering Doha is such a major airline hub there were hundreds of people from around the world I was exposed to while I was on my layover. I could have easily been exposed to the virus and everyone on my flight should have been screened. I am shocked, outraged, and appalled by how the U.S. government is handling this pandemic and if you are an American you should be outraged too.
Since our government isn’t taking this pandemic as seriously as they should be we should all be doing our part by staying home. Even though the U.S. government didn’t advise me to do a 2-week quarantine upon my return, I have volunteered to do so anyway. This is the responsible thing to do in case I am a carrier of this virus.
I am currently under quarantine in Melbourne Beach, Florida at a friend’s house and after my 2 weeks is up I will continue to practice social distancing. I hope everyone else is being responsible and doing the same (except key workers such as nurses, doctors, emergency personnel, etc.). Please, everyone, stay home, stay safe & stay healthy!
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