By Chinelo Obogo
United Arabs Emirates (UAE) has extended its ban on Nigerian flights till March 20, 2021, Daily Sun can confirm.
A spokesperson for Emirates airline said in a statement that passengers from Abuja and Lagos will not be accepted for travel prior to or including this date but that flights from Dubai to both states will continue to operate as per the normal schedule.
“In line with government directives, passenger services from Nigeria (Lagos and Abuja) to Dubai are temporarily suspended until 20 March 2021. Customers from both Abuja and Lagos will not be accepted for travel prior to or including this date. Passengers who have been to or connected through Nigeria in the last 14 days are not allowed entry into the UAE (whether terminating in or connecting through Dubai).
“We regret the inconvenience caused, and affected customers should contact their booking agent or Emirates call centre for rebooking. Emirates remains committed to Nigeria, and we look forward to resuming passenger services to Dubai for our customers when conditions allow,” the airline said.
On February 14, Dubai Airport Authority announced the extension of the suspension of flights from Nigeria till March 10, 2020. In another statement by February 28, the Authority said the UAE will only review the ban by March 10 but as at the time of filling this report, the ban date has been reviewed upward.
Last month, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), announced the suspension of Emirates operations from Lagos and Abuja over the airline’s violation of COVID-19 protocols. It accused the airline of airlifting passengers from Nigeria using Rapid Antigen Test (RDT) conducted by laboratories that are neither approved nor authorised by the appropriate regulatory bodies in Nigeria.
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) also directed that Emirates airlines should either accept passengers without RDT pending when the infrastructure and the logistics are put in place or suspends its flights to and from Nigeria until such a time when the required infrastructure and logistics are fully established and implemented. But shortly after announcing the suspension, the United Arabs Emirates asked Emirates to suspend the RDT testing in Nigeria, prompting the NCAA to lift the suspension.
Shortly after the NCAA’s directive, Emirates announced on Wednesday, February 10, that it has suspended passenger services from Nigeria (Lagos and Abuja) to Dubai. A statement from the airline said it will resume flights from the two Nigerian cities when the issues are sorted out.
The diplomatic row continued after Nigeria’s largest airline, Air Peace, revealed that the UAE has stopped the airlifting of passengers from Nigeria to UAE as part of its COVID-19 measures but said that the airline can airlift passengers from the UAE back to Nigeria.
The Netherlands also faces a ban on flying passengers out of Nigeria again because it has continued using rapid COVID-19 tests on customers before they are allowed to board flights to Dubai. The rapid testing requirement is believed to have been added to address concerns that some passengers were presenting fraudulent PCR certificates to get around existing pre-flight testing rules. Passengers travelling from Lagos and Abuja to Dubai are already required to take a COVID-19 test within 72-hours of departure and a second on arrival in Dubai.
Meanwhile, the PTF on COVID-19 has asked the Ministry of Aviation and its relevant agencies to take the necessary reciprocal measures permissible under the laws against Emirates Airline and the Netherlands over pre departure tests.
The taskforce made this threat during one of its recent briefings, tasking the Ministry to ensure its reciprocal measures are permissible under the laws and other international obligations.
Chairman of PTF and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha said: “For over a month, Nigeria has been engaged with the authorities of the UAE and The Netherlands over pre-departure testing requirements passengers should meet before travelling from Nigeria.”