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Hurdles await travellers as airlines enforce new safety protocols

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Canada levies $2000 hotel quarantine fee after Nigerian traveller dies
• UAE bans Nigerians on transit from other countries
• Emirates charges extra N25, 800 - N36, 800 per antigen test in Abuja, Lagos

Nigerians embarking on international trips should brace up for fresh COVID-19 safety measures and chaotic flight schedules if they are lucky to find carriers on their scheduled routes.

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This is as countries are changing the travel advisories more rapidly than ever, with travellers paying more for flights, high likelihood of being caught mid-air and stranded on international routes.
 
Effective yesterday, for instance, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), banned airlines from picking Nigerians transiting through other countries, among other new protocols. That is, only Nigerian passengers flying directly from Nigeria are now welcome in Dubai.
 
Besides the mandatory polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test requirement, some of which the authenticity of results are now in doubt, Dubai International Airport has also imposed compulsory antigen test for passengers just before boarding from Nigeria. The test now costs additional N25, 800 per traveller at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja, and N36, 800 at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos.
 
Similarly, the Canadian Government has begun mandatory hotel quarantine for arriving passengers at the cost of $2000 (about N900, 000). The additional measure, to be paid by the passenger, came some days after a Nigerian traveller from Lagos, died of coronavirus on arrival at Toronto.
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The United Kingdom has in fact slammed a ban on travellers coming from some 33 countries, including UAE, in efforts to cut back on the likely importation of the COVID-19 second strain. Nigeria is not yet on the red list as at the time of filing this report.
 
In a travel protocol update sent from Dubai to Nigerian trade partners at the weekend, the UAE authorities stated: “Kindly be advised that effective from February 1, 2021, the following conditions must be met for travel from Nigeria: All passengers are required to obtain a negative COVID-19 certificate. The PCR should be conducted within 72 hours of the date of departure.
 
“All passengers are required to conduct a rapid COVID-19 test and obtain a negative result within four hours of their departure time. Passengers must travel directly from Nigeria to Dubai. No passenger may enter Dubai from any other country/station if they have visited or transited from Nigeria in the last 14 days.”
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The implication of Dubai banning Nigerians on transit is that other airlines will not be able to commute Nigerian passengers aside Emirates Airlines, which has its major hub at the Dubai International Airport – the world’s busiest for international travellers.
 
In another update from Dubai, obtained by The Guardian yesterday, the Dubai authorities stated that “in addition to the COVID-19 PCR test certificate required for transit through Dubai and final destination, passengers are required to carry out a rapid COVID-19 antigen test within four hours of departure effective February 1, 2021.
 
“Facilities for antigen testing are available at the Lagos and Abuja international airport departure levels.
 
“Please be advised that passengers are to arrive at the airport to carry out the Rapid COVID-19 antigen tests first, before check-in. Results will be out within 15 to 20 minutes. Upon having a negative rapid test result, passengers may proceed to the check-in counter.”
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The Guardian learnt that Mobi Health booths had been set up at the check-in area of Lagos and Abuja airports. Emirates passengers are now required to arrive at airports at least six hours before departure time.
 
However, Nigerian flag carrier on the UAE route, Air Peace airline, has said that its intending travellers to UAE, on Lagos-Sharjah flights, are not affected by the new COVID-19 flight protocols introduced by the Dubai Airport’s Operations Control Centre.
 
The indigenous carrier is scheduled to resume Lagos-Sharjah-Lagos operations on February 5, after about 10 months of withdrawal due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
   
Chief Operating Officer of the airline, Toyin Olajide, said the UAE’s COVID-19 rapid test at the airport four hours before departure does not affect Air Peace passengers, who are expected to submit only the coronavirus test result of not more than 72 hours old, before the departure of their flights.
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“Air Peace operates into Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, not Dubai, and therefore, our passengers are exempted from the rapid COVID-19 test four hours before departure,” Olajide said.
 
In the same vein, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced at the weekend that travellers to Canada will have to quarantine in hotels at their own expense and airlines are suspending flights to southern destinations, further tightening restrictions to slow COVID-19 spread.
 
New arrivals will have to pay to quarantine in hotels for up to three days under strict supervision.
 
Canadian media last week reported that a Nigerian died of coronavirus some hours after arriving in Canada. The 47-year-old allegedly complained of shortness of breath having travelled on Delta Airlines from Lagos to Toronto via Atlanta, United States.
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“Sources said the man apparently took a COVID-19 test in Nigeria but hadn’t received the results before departing. The man, a married father of two, was pronounced dead at the scene and the Canadian Border Services Agency was notified,” Canadian media reported.
 
The death comes nearly two weeks after Transport Canada made negative COVID-19 tests mandatory for anybody boarding a plane into Canada — a rule that appears not having much of an impact on flights carrying COVID-19 infected passengers.
 
Travel experts said the tougher measures were expected following the spikes in COVID-19 cases.
 
Travel consultant, Sunday Olumegbon, yesterday, said while the countries were trying to keep safe, both the travellers and airlines would suffer the disruptions.
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“I know a lot of clients that have made their travel plans for either business or medical trips abroad. Most of them are jittery now because of the varying protocols and the less likelihood of having a successful trip. Indeed, it is not time to travel for anyone. The whole business is in a mess,” Olumegbon said.  
 
Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said the new protocol by Dubai was not different from what they had advised Nigerian authorities to do early 2020, to restrict all international airlines to Lagos and Abuja for proper screening.
 
“So why do we think what the UAE is doing is abnormal?” Ojikutu queried.
  
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), however, said such “knee-jerk restrictions” would do more harm to the beleaguered aviation industry and frustrate recovery efforts.
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Chief Executive Officer of IATA, representing 280 global airlines, Alexandre de Juniac, said the new restrictions could only make air travel more difficult for all parties, “and that is one of the reasons why the slow pace of progress in the crisis is so frustrating.”
  
de Juniac said safety remains a priority for the industry and they are working tirelessly with governments to keep flying safe and reduce the risk of COVID-19 importation via travel with the implementation of the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s Council for Aviation Recovery Task Force (ICAO CART) recommendations to replace quarantine with COVID-19 testing.
 
“While we still see airlines turning cash positive within the year, the near-term picture is bleak. Instead of a boost from the year-end holiday period, we got even more restrictions. Governments tightened borders in a knee-jerk response to a virus mutation. Canada, UK, Germany, Japan and others added testing to their COVID-19 measures without removing quarantine requirements. In other words, they have chosen policy measures that will shut down travel.
 
“This approach tells us that these governments are not interested in managing a balanced approach to the risks of COVID-19.  They appear to be aiming for a zero-COVID world. This is an impossible task that comes with severe consequences—the full extent of which it would be impossible to calculate. But, with this approach, we know for sure that the travel and tourism economy will not recover, jobs will continue to disappear, and the lockdown’s toll on people’s mental health will continue to grow—particularly on those who are separated from loved ones.”
  
The CEO added that a more balanced public policy approach was needed—one that is based on testing as a replacement for quarantines so that the industry could begin addressing the severe side-effects of COVID-19 policies.

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