The Federal Government on Sunday ruled out the possibility of restricting foreign travellers from visiting Nigeria despite travel bans on the country by Canada, the United Kingdom, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong.
This is just as the government stated that most of the in-bound passengers that tested positive for COVID-19 were from the UK.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said this on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ programme on Sunday which was monitored by The PUNCH.
Ehanire described as unfortunate the knee-jerk reaction of some countries to the Omicron strain. He noted that even the World Health Organisation had said recently that countries should focus more on collaboration rather than shutting borders.
“At the moment we have no plans restricting anybody coming from another country,” he said.
WHO had two weeks ago designated the omicron variant as a variant of concern. The NCDC had last week announced that the country had reported three cases of the variant. Before this, the Canadian government had announced that it found two individuals with the variant who had travel history to Nigeria.
The UK on Saturday night also announced that it found 21 cases of the omicron variant which were linked to Nigeria. It announced that it would, from Monday (today), restrict all flights emanating from Nigeria.
It also suspended all pending visa applications in Nigeria due to the ban on flights from Nigeria due to the Omicron variant.
In a statement on Sunday, the commission said, “To support the UK Government’s aim to protect public health from COVID-19 and associated variants of concern, UK Visas and Immigration will pause making decisions on visitor visa applications in all red list countries, including Nigeria, until travel restrictions are lifted.
“If you apply for a visit visa in a red list country and you meet the UK Immigration Rules, your application will be paused. You will not receive a decision on your visit visa application whilst red list travel restrictions remain in place. You will not be able to request a refund of your visa fee once you have given your biometrics at a Visa Application Centre. If you already hold a valid visit visa and are intending to travel to England as a visitor from a red list country, you will not be allowed to enter.”
The UK said there are only very limited exemptions to travel and entry requirements for critical workers and medical and compassionate cases.”
But the minister said the Omicron strain could not yet be declared as a deadly strain because no deaths had so far been recorded across the world.
“We are watching what the science community is saying and of course not rushing to judgment and we are also not applauding any lockdowns or any prohibitions or banning of flights or movement of people until we know more.
“We believe that the harm it will do to livelihoods and economies may be more that the perceived value that will be derived from shutting movement between countries. I believe countries should come together to take a common approach and that includes the UK and other countries contemplating a red list,” Ehanire added.
When asked why there was a large number of outbound Nigerian passengers testing positive abroad despite testing negative in Nigeria, Ehanire admitted that indeed, some fake test results were being presented by passengers.
The minister said the government had tightened its mechanism for spotting fake results and vaccination cards.
He, however, argued that the development was not peculiar to Nigeria, adding that most of the inbound passengers that tested positive in Nigeria were actually from the UK.
“Because of the very large volume of travellers from the UK, we also have the most positive COVID-19 virus coming from the UK too,” the minister said.