FG to UK on OMICRON: Travel ban on Nigeria lacks common sense, not science-driven

 The federal government Monday accused the United Kingdom of bias by adding Nigeria to the red list which bans Nigerians from travelling to the UK over the outbreak of Omicron COVID variant.

 Describing it as prejudiced and discriminatory, the government said the decision lacked common sense and cannot be backed by science.

Nigeria became the latest country to be added to the UK’s travel ‘red list’ Monday, with all 11 others on the list located in Africa.

By the red list, the only people allowed to enter the UK from them are UK or Irish nationals and residents. Anyone returning from red-list nations has to self-isolate for 10 days at their own expense in a government-approved hotel.

The UK’s decision to impose restrictions on Nigeria was announced Saturday.

Adducing reasons for the ban weekend, the UK authority said 21 of the new variant cases were traceable to Nigeria, even as the federal government announced three cases were discovered since the new variant broke out.

By the announcement, the travel ban commenced 4.00am Monday (today).

And coincidentally, the British Airways cancelled the Lagos-London flight Sunday for what it called operational reasons.

However, the BA, according to reports, has since resumed operations in and out of Nigeria Monday.

FG’s position

Condemning the travel ban at a media parley in Abuja Monday, Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed wondered why British citizens travelling from Nigeria would be allowed in but non Britons from same country would be denied.

The minister who said the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) would respond appropriately to the development, however said, as the government’s spokesman, he still needed to speak up.

He said: “As the Spokesman for the Federal Government, I can say, without mincing words, that the decision by the British government to put Nigeria on the red list, just because of less than two dozen cases of Omicron which, by the way, did not originate in Nigeria, is unjust, unfair, punitive, indefensible and discriminatory. The decision is also not driven by science. 

“How do you slam this kind of discriminatory action on a country of 200 million people, just because of less than two dozen cases? Whereas British citizens and residents are allowed to come in from Nigeria, non-residents from the same country are banned. The two groups are coming from the same country, but being subjected to different conditions. Why won’t Britain allow people in both categories to come in, and be subjected to the same conditions of testing and quarantine? This is why this decision to ban travellers from Nigeria, who are neither citizens nor residents, is grossly discriminatory and punitive.” 

The minister further said “the travel ban, the type that has been slammed on some African countries, is a knee-jerk reaction that can only be detrimental to our quest to most conclusively tackle this pandemic. Instead of these reflex responses that are driven by fear, rather than science, why can’t the world take a serious look at the issue of access to vaccines, and ensure that it is based on the principles grounded in the right of every human to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, political belief, economic or any other social condition. 

“Many developed countries have used the advantage of their enormous resources or relationship to sign agreements with manufacturers to supply their countries with vaccines ahead of making them available for use by other countries. Even before the clinical trials were completed, millions of doses of the most promising vaccines have been bought by Britain, US, Japan and the EU.

“Some of these countries bought doses five times the size of their population, while others, mostly in Africa, have little or no access to vaccines. This is the real issue to address, instead of choosing the easy path of travel bans, which the UN Secretary General called Travel Apartheid. Let the world know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.” 

PSC reviews travel protocol

Mohammed also noted that “in the wake of the discovery of Omicron, the PSC has reviewed its International Travel Protocol. The revised protocol, which came into effect yesterday (5 Dec., 2021), is aimed at further reducing the risk of importation and exportation of COVID-19, especially the variants of concern.

“Under the revised protocol, passengers arriving in Nigeria are expected to provide evidence of and comply with the following rules:- COVID-19 PCR test to be done within 48 hours before departure – Post-arrival Day 2 COVID-19 PCR test – Self-isolation for 7 days (for unvaccinated and partially-vaccinated individuals) – Day 7 post-arrival exit PCR test (for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals). 

“On the other hand, out-bound passengers are required to provide: Valid evidence of full vaccination against COVID-19 – Negative PCR test result within 48hrs from the time boarding. 

“These are science-driven actions, rather than those based on emotions and other extraneous reasons. However, if any country is not satisfied with them, why not simply subject Nigerians arriving in their country to their own PCR tests and proven conditions, like quarantine, instead of banning them outrightly?

“We sincerely hope the British government will immediately review the decision to put Nigeria on its red list and rescind it immediately. Nigeria has handled the Covid-19 pandemic with utmost responsibility and based on science, and has rightly earned global accolades for its efforts. Nigeria does not belong on any country’s red list.”

Answering reporters’ questions, the minister said:  “What some countries expected of the pandemic here didn’t happen and that’s why they are undermining our certificates (vaccination).  It’s pure prejudice and discrimination. It’s not backed common sense; it’s not backed by science.”

‘It’s travel apartheid’

In a similar condemnation, Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, Mr Sarafa Tunji Isola, described the ban  as a “travel apartheid” and urged officials to adopt a more  “global approach.”

In an interview with the BBC Monday, Ishola said the targeted approach taken by the British government had limited travel to and from some African nations.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres having also used the term “travel apartheid” last week while speaking to reporters in New York. The UN chief claimed that travel restrictions, such as those imposed by the UK, are “not only deeply unfair and punitive”, but are ultimately “ineffective.”

Similarly, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo criticized countries for imposing restrictions on African nations, calling the measures “instruments of immigration control.”

UK Minister Kit Malthouse refuted the allegation, stating that the use of the phrase “travel apartheid” is “very unfortunate language.” Defending the restrictions, he argued that they are helpful in giving British health officials “a little bit of time” to “work on the virus and assess how difficult it’s going to be.”

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care has also stood by the restrictions, noting that the government will continue to keep the potential risk posed by individual countries and territories under review as regards what levels of precaution are required.

British Airways resume

Meanwhile, United Kingdom carrier, British Airways (BA) Monday offered explanations for its flight disruptions. 

An electronic statement made available to journalists by the management indicated that all flights from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos into London Heathrow have been retimed due to restrictions at London Heathrow to support arrivals from a red-list country.

The airline noted that all its customers travelling from Nigeria must follow the UK government’s rules on arrivals from a red-listed country and have a negative PCR test result within the 48 hours prior to their departure from Nigeria.

 ”As a result of the UK Government placing Nigeria on to the red list, we continue to closely monitor the situation and adjust our schedule accordingly. All flights from Lagos to London Heathrow have been retimed. This is due to restrictions at London Heathrow to support arrivals from a red-list country.

“All customers travelling from Nigeria must follow the UK government’s rules on arrivals from a red-listed country and have a negative PCR test result within the 48 hours prior to their departure from Nigeria. Find out more at gov.uk

”Only British or Irish nationals or customers who have residence rights in the UK will be allowed to enter the UK, where they will be required to quarantine in a government facility. 

“Arrivals from Nigeria will land at Heathrow Terminal 5 where any customer whose journey terminates, will be taken on a bus to Terminal 4 for processing prior to being escorted to their pre-purchased quarantine hotel. Customer’s bags will also be taken directly to Terminal 4.

”Any customers wishing to transfer must follow the rules for their final destination. We understand how uncertain the times are and as such Customers have the following options to change their travel. 

“Credit for future travel under our Book with Confidence policy. Re-accommodation using Lufthansa or Qatar Airways, if your flight is cancelled,” the statement further directed.

It stated that “due to the retiming of Lagos to London Heathrow, a full refund is permitted on ba.com or through your travel agents.”