From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi and Aidoghie Paulinus, Abuja
The Federal Government has rejected the United Kingdom’s travel ban on Nigerians as well as placing the country on a Red List.
The United Kingdom’s restrictions on Nigerians came into effect, yesterday after the Omicron variant of COVID-19 was discovered, first in South Africa and later, Nigeria. On Sunday, the British High Commissioner in Nigeria, communicated UK’s decision to include Nigeria on the list, after nine African countries had been placed on the Red List. Britain also suspended visa services to Nigerians; with “very limited exceptions to travel and entry requirements for critical workers , medical and compassionate cases.”
A waiver was, however, made for citizens who travel from Nigeria but would have to pay £2,285 for a 10-day quarantine.
But the Federal Government has reiterated that Britain’s decision was discriminatory, punitive, unfair and not based on science and has demanded a review.
“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 lis,” Minister of Information, National Orientation and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said at a press conference in Abuja, yesterday.
Asked why President Muhammadu Buhari did not defer South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to Nigeria, after the Omicron variant was detected in the country, he replied: “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… The Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 considered the visit and decided that, as long as the proper protocol was observed, there was no need to suspend the president’s visit.”
Mohammed also disclosed that the PSC would soon take a decision if the UK refuses to review its travel ban and Red list.
“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 is based on science.”
The appropriate response to Britain would be taken by the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19. Where is the origin of this variant? It’s definitely not Africa, it’s definitely not Nigeria. Countries in Europe where the same variant has been discovered, they have not been included on the travel ban. Even if 21 cases were discovered, does that qualify us for a travel ban? The ban is unfair, unjust and discriminatory.
“…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.
“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.
“Let me seize 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. “
•Decision taken to protect public health in the UK
However, the UK has said the decision cannot be changed.
Head of Communications, British High Commission, Abuja, Dean Hurlock, said the decision was a precautionary measure to protect public health in the UK.
“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,” Hurlock added.
“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.”