The Federal Government yesterday rejected the travel ban on travellers from Nigeria by the United Kingdom (UK) over the spread of the Omicron variant of Coronavirus.
It asked the UK authorities to “immediately” review the ban, which it described as “kneel-jerk, apartheid, discriminatory, punitive, unfair, indefensible, and unscientific.”
The government questioned the rationale for including Nigeria in the UK Red List, having been globally acknowledged for its proactive approach to the campaign against COVID-19.
It accused the UK and other developed nations of using their “enormous resources” to mop up “promising vaccines” to the detriment of less developed ones.
The UK government, however, sought Nigeria’s understanding, promising to review the policy on December 20.
At the weekend, there were no flights from Nigeria and the other affected countries on the red alert into the UK.
Yesterday, Nigeria reported 12 positive cases of Omicron as against UK’s 336.
Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed spoke about Nigeria’s displeasure with the ban at a news conference in Abuja.
Asked if the Federal Government would respond to the ban with similar action, Mohammed replied: “The appropriate decision will be taken by the appropriate Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19.”
The minister said the “reflex responses” of the UK were driven by fear rather than science.
His words: “Britain now joins other countries, including Canada, which has taken similar action against Nigeria over Omicron.
“Let me say straight away that it’s up to the PSC to respond to this action by the British Government and others, and I have no doubt that the committee will respond appropriately.
“However, 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.
”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.
“As we speak today (yesterday), nobody has been reported to have died of the Omicron variant. It is just pure prejudice and discrimination
“How do you slam this kind of discriminatory action on a country of 200 million people? 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 are subject 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 insisted that Nigeria had been proactive in its approach to the Omicron variant of Coronavirus to prevent its spread.
Mohammed said the Federal Government had on December 5 released a revised protocol on COVID-19 to reduce the risk of importation and exportation of the virus.
The minister added: “In the wake of the discovery of Omicron, the PSC reviewed its International Travel Protocol.
“The revised protocol, which came into effect yesterday (December 5), is aimed at further reducing the risk of importation and exportation of COVID-19, especially the variants of concern.
“Under the revised protocol, inbound passengers arriving in Nigeria are expected to provide evidence of tests done 48 hours before their arrival while those outbound travellers are to show PCR test results done 48 hours from the time of boarding.”
He described the measures as “science-driven actions, rather than those based on emotions and other extraneous reasons.”
Mohammed argued that if any country felt unsatisfied with the measures, it could “simply” subject inbound travellers “to their own PCR tests and proven conditions, like quarantine, instead of banning them outrightly?”
He said instead of indulging in “travel apartheid,” developed countries should ensure that there are enough vaccines to curtail COVID-19.
His words: “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 European Union.
“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 (António Guterres) called travel apartheid. Let the world know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”
The minister said the knee-jerk reaction against African countries by developed economies cannot help the fight against Coronavirus.
He said: “Let me use this opportunity to highlight the fact that 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.”
MTN condemns ban
MTN Group President and Chief Executive Officer Ralph Mupita condemned the travel ban, saying it was not based on scientific evidence.
Mupita argued that African countries were being punished by the UK and other advanced nations for being transparent by announcing the discovery of Omicron.
The MTN boss, who also disclosed the plan by the company for mandatory vaccination policy for all its members of staff from January 2022, called for vaccine equity.
“The latest data shows that across the continent, only seven percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. ”This compares with a global population vaccination rate of 55 percent. The fight against COVID-19 needs a global, comprehensive, and equitable allocation of vaccines,” he added.
UK seeks understanding
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, has however, sought Nigeria’s understanding of the travel ban. Laing, who spoke with The Nation on the rejection of the policy by the Federal Government, said the ban was for the public good and need by the UK to understand the new COVID-19 variant.
She assured of a review on December 20.
Laing said: “We know that this decision will have a significant impact on people in both our countries, particularly at this time of year.
“This decision is a precautionary measure to protect public health in the UK, whilst we try to understand this new variant.
“These are temporary measures that have been introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK and will be examined at a review point on 20 December.
“We continue to work very closely with the Nigerian authorities in tackling the pandemic and commend their ongoing work.”