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End the apartheid, FG, Adesina, Ishola slam UK’s travel ban

By Bridget Chiedu Onochie (Abuja Bureau Chief), Wole Oyebade (Lagos) and Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze (Abuja)
07 December 2021   |   4:30 am
Criticisms, yesterday, trailed United Kingdom (UK)’s travel ban after Nigeria was placed on a red list amid fears over spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

(Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP)

• FG reviewing sanctions, Nigeria will respond appropriately, says SGF
• UK red listing unjust, discriminatory – Lai Mohammed
• Nigeria paying for condoning errors of commission, Tomori blames FG
• Africa CDC: Only 7% of Africans fully vaccinated compared to 66% of EU population
• Stakeholders link restriction to economic sanction, urge FG to reciprocate

Criticisms, yesterday, trailed United Kingdom (UK)’s travel ban after Nigeria was placed on a red list amid fears over spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The ban, which came into effect yesterday, meant only UK residents or citizens can enter the UK from Nigeria and they will have to self-isolate in a pre-booked government-approved hotel for 10 days at their own expense.

Nigeria became the 11th country to go on the UK’s red list for international travel. All nations currently on that list are from Africa.

Though Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, yesterday, said the Federal Government is reviewing the sanctions imposed on Nigeria by the British government, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, described UK’s decision as an act of prejudice, unjust and discriminatory.

Answering questions from journalists at the ongoing COVID-19 summit in Abuja, Mustapha said Nigeria would respond appropriately after the review of issues raised by the British government.

He said: “All countries have processes that they have put in place to mitigate the effect of the virus, the British government has decided to add Nigeria to their list, we are reviewing that and Nigeria will respond appropriately. We will meet and look at all the issues raised by the British government and a response will come out of that.”

The government’s spokesman, Mohammed, wondered why European countries where Omicron variant was originally discovered were yet to be placed on the red list. He, therefore, urged the British government to rescind its decision against Nigeria with immediate effect. Failure to do so, he said the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 will emerge with country’s retaliatory measures in due course.

Accusing the West of using their economic and other privileged positions to access more vaccines than they required at the detriment of African countries, the government reiterated that unhindered access to vaccine, and not travel bans, remains the answer to the global health challenge.

“Let me say straight away that it is 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 UK 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? While 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 subjected to different conditions.”

He added that the kind of travel ban imposed on some African countries, including Nigeria, is a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction that could only be detrimental to moves to tackle the 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.

“This is the real issue to address rather than 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,” the Minister said.

THIS was also re-echoed by Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, Sarafa Ishola, who described the travel restrictions imposed on the country as apartheid. He told the BCC, yesterday, that what is expected of the UK is a global approach and not a selective measure, adding that most Omicron cases in Nigeria came from elsewhere through travellers.

Ishola said: “Omicron is classified as a mild variant, no hospitalisation, no deaths, so the issue is quite different from the Delta variant.

Dr.-Akinwumi-Adesina-AfDB photo Daily Times

PRESIDENT of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, has also said the travel ban on some African countries over Omicron is “very unfair, non-scientific and discriminatory.”

Adesina, who said this through his verified Twitter handle @akin_adesina, urged the western countries to lift the travel ban on African countries. He queried why the travel ban was not placed on non-African countries where Omicron had also been found.

“Global vaccines and travel apartheid against Africa are endangering lives, hurting economies, lives, jobs and livelihoods from a pandemic Africa did not cause. End the apartheid. Respect Africa,” Adesina said.

African leaders have been pushing back on the travel bans imposed by the Western nations. They contended that the result of South Africa’s openness in sharing news of the variant had led to what they see as punitive measures.

BUT Oyewale Tomori, a professor of virology and former Vice Chancellor of Redeemers University, said the travel ban is not racism, rather it is because the Federal Government “condoned errors of commission and overlooking her errors of omission.”

Tomori said this yesterday at the National COVID-19 Summit organised by the PSC. Speaking during the summit with the theme ‘Global Health Security Threat: Repositioning to End the Pandemic and Build Back Better,’ the virologist said in contrast to accusations of racism by the banned countries, Nigeria is only paying for “overlooking errors.

Prof. Oyewale Tomori

“I woke up today to hear that Canada no longer recognises my genuine vaccination card. And Britain has clamped a travel ban on us. A few days ago, I had to know there was Omicron in Nigeria from outside. The same Canada was telling me that Nigerians who travelled out with negative COVID lab results were omicronised, before my own CDC finally tells me that we had the variant, detected in samples collected from people who recently travelled from South Africa,” he said.

“Were they people on the entourage of President Ramaphosa? They did not tell. We painfully call the reactions of the UK and Canada racism, inequity. But I say we are paying for condoning our errors of commission and overlooking our errors of omission.

“The first epidemic we must address is the one affecting our culture and true Nigerianess. We must have a nation where national interest buries self-interest. Otherwise, this summit will become a mirage and a vapour. It will be burnt to ashes by the fire of evil that plagues us.

“Unless we build back better on our culture, the outcome of the summit will descend into the valley of the disregarded and disremembered, and become another expensive exercise in futility.”

The virologist, who wept while delivering his speech, said further: “Today, we lie to each other. The government lies to us, and we reciprocate with bigger lies, telling the government it is doing well, when we know it is not. We clap with the loudest ovation for a non-performing leader. We acclaim in pretended joyous ecstasy, those we should not, even when we know they are not telling the truth. We pray that our king lives forever, and he says Amen, when we both know we shall all die.”

The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, António Guterres, first used the term ‘travel apartheid’ on Wednesday, telling reporters in New York that bans “are not only deeply unfair and punitive, they are ineffective.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) also said blanket travel bans would not stop the spread of variants, and could potentially discourage countries from reporting and sharing important data.

European Union (EU) health ministers will meet today (Tuesday) to determine whether travel restrictions in response to the spread of Omicron should be changed. One of the options to be considered is a PCR test for non-EU nationals travelling from affected countries, which may allow travel bans to be eased or lifted.

It would be recalled that when the AIDS epidemic broke out 40 years ago, travel and residency restrictions were imposed on people with HIV, despite there being no public health rationale. These restrictions led to deportations, denial of entry into countries, loss of employment, denial of asylum, and increased stigma and discrimination, which disproportionately affected Africans.

The rush to punish Africa suggests that African countries have now become the epicentre of COVID-19, when this is far from reality. This not only draws attention away from Western public health failures and rising numbers of infections, but also erases the efforts of African health authorities and local health systems to contain the spread of the virus.

For more than a year, African political leaders, scientists, and activists have been calling on wealthier nations to end what has been called ‘vaccine apartheid’. Several campaigns from #EndVaccineApartheid to #EndVaccineInjusticeInAfrica continue to demand immediate interventions to alleviate acute COVID-19 vaccine shortages.

According to Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), just seven per cent of Africans have been fully vaccinated, compared with 66 per cent of the EU population. As of late October, only five out of 54 African countries were projected to hit the WHO’s recommended target of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of national populations by the end of the year.

It is estimated that by the end of 2021, wealthier nations will have accumulated about 1.2 billion surplus vaccine doses.

AVIATION stakeholders, yesterday, said UK’s restriction is not unconnected with economic sanction and a breach of diplomatic ties that should warrant reciprocity. The stakeholders, apparently peeved by the decision, said the restriction was skewed against Nigerians while UK airlines keep coming in and out of the ‘red list zone.’

While many Nigerian holidaymakers will not be able to travel to the UK, Canada and Singapore, at least 8,000 citizens in the UK that are due for Nigeria this yuletide are also affected by the restriction.

Secretary General of the Aviation Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the restriction was informed more by economic and political considerations, than the “variant of concern.”

Ojikutu said: “What economic sense would it make for British Airways (BA) to be coming to Nigeria under its COVID-19 rules when 90 per cent of its inbound and outbound passengers are Nigerians? We have more Nigerians going to the UK on BA and Virgin Atlantic (VA). Are we looking more inwards and beyond COVID-19, Delta variant and now Omicron?

“Carrying more Nigerians outbound Nigeria and inbound UK means more of their monies getting trapped in our Central Bank, in addition to over £300 million yet to be transferred before the Omicron fear, by my understanding, is more economic and diplomatic than the pandemic restrictions.

“The battle started with BA saying it would not sell tickets to outbound passengers from Nigeria. Why? Because of trapped £300 million sales tickets money in the CBN. BA looked for another way out using COVID-19 as a reason for banning Nigeria. Pay BA the money trapped in the CBN today, the gates in and out of the UK will be opened to Nigerians,” Ojikutu said.

Chairman of the Airline Passenger Joint Committee of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, reckoned that the ban was extra logical, and deserving of sanction from Nigeria. Bernard said it made no sense to place a country in a red zone, yet keep flying commercial aircraft to the zone.

“I think we should restrict their airlines too, just like Nigeria did with Emirates early this year. I don’t think any commercial activity should be taking place during a restriction,” he said.