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COVID-19 travel ban: Is Nigeria paying a price over Omicron?

December 13, 2021

Nigeria seems to be paying a price associated with its handling of COVID-19 pandemic responses since 2020.

The emergence of Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant which reportedly originated from South Africa, placed Nigeria in a frenzy as always.

The same panic mode ensued when we had the Delta variant plunging the country into making hasty, unprepared decisions to go with the tide.

Such developments exposed our lack of preparedness to tackle unforeseen challenges because our decayed health sector is not prepared to handle even the most common cases at hand.

Since the advent of COVID-19 in 2020, Nigerians were made to believe that the country is prepared to tackle the menace as it ravages nations.

Soon after the formation of the Presidential Committee on COVID-19, billions were raised by the government and donations by the private sector as well as international donors in cash and kind to cushion the effects of the pandemic.

Quarantine and testing centres were quickly established to attend to the isolation of confirmed cases and testing the population for the virus.

However, a few weeks after the take-off of these centres, reports of sharp practices, shortage of testing kits as well as Oxygen and Ventilators set in, bringing chaos in the system as testing and treatment went beyond the poor.

It was in that melee that the country began to record its heaviest casualties as prominent individuals fell to the pangs of the dreaded virus.

There were also widespread allegations of how patients in isolation centres were being neglected.

What exposed the allegations of corruption was the plundering of warehouses in many parts of the country by the poor.

Several of these warehouses were broken into in broad daylight and the COVID-19 relief items allegedly hoarded were carted away.

The relief materials donated by the private sector were meant to be distributed to Nigerians in order to cushion the effect of the lockdown imposed in the country.

They were however locked in warehouses while poor Nigerians bore the brunt of the lockdown which restricted their movements while their income went down.

The Omicron backlash

While the country was carried away by the relaxed restrictions and opening of economies, it seems to forget the threats posed by the pandemic which may emerge unexpectedly like it did in the past.

This brings another phase as Nigerians move to cut corners in order to travel to other climes, while countries put in measures to protect their population from the new variant

The scramble to travel to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), created an avenue for COVID-19 vaccination card racketeering and other sharp practices.

Travellers were said to be obtaining fake COVID-19 vaccination cards to go to Ghana or other African countries to fly to Dubai because of the travel restrictions placed on direct flights from Nigeria.

Recent travel restrictions slammed on Nigeria by Canada and the United Kingdom over Omicron raised concerns which also attracted condemnations and protests by the federal government.

The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, rejected the measure taken by the United Kingdom over the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.

He said the decision to ban Nigerians from travelling to the UK was unfortunate, adding that countries need more collaboration than isolation at the moment of pandemic crisis.

Similarly, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said: “Britain’s reaction cannot be based on anything but discrimination and prejudice.

“The truth of the matter is that if the pandemic is not killing as they think it should kill, it’s not a matter of under-reporting. I don’t think these prejudicial predictions of deaths in Africa are based on science.

“As we speak today, nobody has died from the Omicron variant. South Africa had the fortune of having an excellent research centre which was discovered to have been carried into South Africa from Botswana by foreigners.

“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 to any country’s red lines.

“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”.

Similarly, the House of Representatives on Monday mandated its committees on health and foreign affairs to interface with the ministries of health, foreign affairs and the presidential task force on COVID- 19 to resolve the travel ban on Nigerians by the United Kingdom over the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

The House adopted a motion by the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta) on Tuesday.

Elumelu said the temporary ban placed on travellers from Nigeria to the UK as announced by the health secretary, Sajid Javid, on Saturday – December 4th, 2021 as a result of concerns over the Omicron COVID-19 variant was misplaced.

He said: “This decision, if left unchallenged, will stop thousands of Nigerians that normally come back home at this time of the year to boost the social and economic activities of the country from coming into the country, thereby causing the nation serious revenue loss”.

He added that if the Nigerian government does not urgently engage the authorities of the United Kingdom, the decision would have a significant impact on businesses and travellers, adding that opportunities and investments already made would be lost, hence the need for a quick interface.

However, a member of the House of Representatives, Aminu Suleman, blames Nigeria for its woes regarding the treatment being meted out on its citizens by other countries.

He said: “We should have done an internal self-assessment. When this COVID called Omicron was announced, because we have people who suffer from oral diarrhoea in Nigeria, our officials, in less than 24 hours to the emergence of this disease, said yes, Nigeria has it.

“It was the NCDC that made the announcement that we have it in Nigeria as if they were waiting for the disease to emerge.

“They announced that we have it. Now, what is the fault of the British government if they say we should not enter their country? What is their fault?

“We should have done an internal self-assessment to investigate and explain. Are they not happy that we have come to the end of COVID and it is going away? And somebody is thinking that he is not done with what he is doing in that office and therefore the office should not be closed? So we must wrongly or rightly accept the emergence of another COVID in another form and another name.

“So, there is no need for us to sit here and begin to castigate another sovereign country for taking such a decision since we as a country have admitted. So, for me, the British government has the right to say we should not go there. And my take on this is that as much as what they did is reprehensible, let us follow a diplomatic way because we have our children who are studying there, and we have people with medical cases.

“So, those exceptional areas, I think, we have a reason to fight diplomatically to ensure that there is a form of modification in the action they have taken against our country”.

Another member of the House, Johnson Ogwuma, said Nigerians shouldn’t blame the UK or any other country for what is happening because Nigerians are not ready to be vaccinated.

He said while the elites are rushing to be vaccinated largely because they want to travel out, the lower-income class are reluctant to be vaccinated.

He said, even when the government is taking measures to get Nigerians vaccinated, many were reluctant or out rightly refused to be vaccinated.

Expired Vaccines

Reuters reported that about one million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have expired in Nigeria.

This should be a cause for concern looking at the population of the country and the percentage of its over 200 million population that was vaccinated.

The report reads: “Up to one million COVID-19 vaccine doses were estimated to have expired in Nigeria last month without being used.

“Governments on the continent of over one billion people have been pushing for more vaccine deliveries as inoculation rates lag richer regions, increasing the risk of new variants such as the Omicron coronavirus now spreading across South Africa.

“In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation and home to more than 200 million people, fewer than 4% of adults have been fully vaccinated, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).”

Spat with the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) which had placed a flight ban from and to Nigeria suspended the ban allowing Emirates flights to Nigeria.

However, in less than a week after the suspension, Nigerian authorities reduced the number of slots given to Emirates to only one.

In response, the UAE suspended Emirates flights indefinitely as a tit-for-tat.

Nigeria also responded, as the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, was reported threatening to impose the same ban on the UAE.

With the current challenges posed by Omicron, Nigeria seems to be paying a price on many fronts regarding the fight against COVID-19.

The post COVID-19 travel ban: Is Nigeria paying a price over Omicron? appeared first on Daily Trust.

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