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Nicaraguans Wanting to Travel “Pay Through the Nose”

All Covid-19 tests must be performed and processed at the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health laboratories in Managua.

The centralization of COVID-19 tests in the Ministry of Health (Minsa) adds expenses and difficulties to Nicaraguans wishing to travel. All tests must be performed and processed in the laboratories of Managua’s National Diagnostic and Referral Center. No other laboratory has been authorized to realize this test.

Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America. However, the cost of getting a COVID test there is the highest in the region, at US $150. The difficulties are complicated by doubts about the official management of the pandemic. Data on the true impact of the Coronavirus in the country is unavailable to the public. The same goes for the number of tests realized and their results. These often come back as “indeterminate”.

Beginning on January 26, Nicaraguans traveling to the United States will face these problems. The U.S. has now established current proof of a negative COVID test as a general requirement for entry. This requirement was first imposed on travelers from Great Britain, due to the new, more contagious Covid strain identified there. As of January 26, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed, the requirement includes all arriving travelers.

The tests must be realized within three days (72 hours) of boarding the flight. Proof of negative results must be given to the airlines before the passenger can board. This prerequisite has been extended to citizens of all countries, including returning United States citizens. It seeks to put the brakes on the spread of the new strain of SARS-CoV-2. The new variant has already been detected in a number of countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

“Airlines must confirm the negative test result for all passengers or documentation of recovery before they board. If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must deny boarding to the passenger.” These were the new CDC guidelines, released on January 12.

If the flight is delayed, the traveler will have to take a new test in order to enter the United States. Proof of negative COVID status will also be demanded for connecting flights.

In Nicaragua, Minsa is the only option for testing

For Nicaraguans, this requirement forces travelers to pay US $150 over 5,000 cordobas, to the Ministry of Health. That’s the cost of a COVID test in the Minsa labs. It’s the only institution in the country that’s authorized to realize the PCR test.

According to official information, COVID-19 tests in Nicaragua are performed in Managua’s National Diagnostic and Referral Center from 8 – 11 am. The results are issued on the afternoon of the same day, between 4 and 5 pm. Those who wish to request a test should present their ID cards or passports and proof of fare and flight itinerary.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the tests processed by this institution have yielded confusing results. Many people who have realized the test have received results saying “indeterminate case”. To many experts, this term indicates a positive result. However, it’s not listed as such, so that authorities can avoid elevating their statistics on the country’s COVID-19 infections.

Currently, it’s unknown whether this “problem” in the results could also occur among people planning to leave the country. The Ministry of Health has maintained utter secrecy regarding the state’s response to the pandemic. This silence includes centralized tests, unpublished medical criteria for ordering a test, and the results of tests performed.

Citizens returning to Nicaragua must repeat the process. They must forward proof of a negative COVID-19 test to Nicaraguan health authorities. This requirement has been in effect in the country since mid- 2020. Several travelers have confirmed to Confidencial that the process of receiving and confirming the results is inefficient. It has caused flight delays and additional travel expenses.

Many have even had to repeat the test, because their 72-hour window to travel ran out. Not to mention that the requirement sometimes implies new expenses in hotels, food and transportation during the extended wait.

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