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Omicron: AU, governors, lawmakers call for end to travel ban, stigmatisation

By Chukwuma Muanya (Lagos), Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, John Akubo, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze and Msugh Ityokura (Abuja)
08 December 2021   |   3:40 am
The African Union (AU), yesterday, called for an urgent end to travel restrictions imposed on some of its member states, saying the measures effectively penalise governments for timely data...

Senate urges British counterparts to intervene
• Reps says visa ban would lead to huge revenue loss
• Nigeria confirms three more cases of Omicron
• Uganda detects first Omicron cases with five travellers from Nigeria
• Travel ban to be reviewed Dec. 20, says UK High Commissioner

The African Union (AU), yesterday, called for an urgent end to travel restrictions imposed on some of its member states, saying the measures effectively penalise governments for timely data sharing in line with international health regulations.

The measures act “as a disincentive for information sharing in the future, potentially posing a threat to health security on the continent and globally,” the AU said in a statement.

The union called for more emphasis to be put on the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines on the continent. “Equitable access to vaccines is key to immunise populations, control transmission of the virus and prevent the emergence of new variants. International efforts should accordingly focus on increasing vaccination coverage on the continent.”

Late last month, European Union (EU) states, the United States and Britain, among other nations, imposed travel curbs on seven southern African countries after they reported several cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which is considered highly infectious.

Similarly, governors of the 36 states of the federation, under the umbrella of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), yesterday, rejected the travel ban imposed on the country by the United Kingdom and Canada over concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus detected in Nigeria.

The two chambers of the National Assembly – Senate and the House of Representatives – also joined the growing band of bodies condemning the ban and seeking its reversal.

NGF Chairman and Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi, in the statement, condemned the hasty decision taken by Canada and the United Kingdom and described it as “precipitated, unfair and discriminatory.”

The NGF urged the World Health Organisation (WHO) to intervene by setting uniform standards that are acceptable to all for banning countries across the globe.

The NGF said it was very discouraging to note that there are several countries that have reported cases of Omicron similar to or higher than Nigeria’s, that have not been banned from entry to the UK or Canada.

The Senate slammed the travel ban as the lawmakers called on their British counterparts to prevail on their government to remove Nigeria from the red list immediately. This followed a motion pursuant to Orders 42 and 52 of the Senate standing rules on the need for the UK government to remove Nigeria from the red list, as moved by Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

The Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, while commenting on the issue said: “I urge the British parliament to mount pressure on their government to remove Nigeria from the so-called red list. I am sure with this motion, Nigerians have spoken to the British authorities that enlisting Nigeria is seriously jeopardising the relationship between the two countries. We are saying let there be justification for it.”

The House of Representatives mandated the Federal Government to urgently engage UK with a view to reversing the visa ban on Nigerians. The House noted that the decision would have a significant impact on businesses and travellers intending to carry out lawful transactions in the UK as opportunities and investments already made would be lost, hence the need for a quick interface.

This was sequel to a motion by the minority leader of the House, Ndudi Elumelu, on the “need to intervene in the suspension of issuance of visitors visa to Nigerians by the UK government.”

The House noted that though the ban is for Nigerians bound for the UK, it does not exempt over 8,000 Nigerian travellers that have bought air tickets to visit Nigeria during this festive period, as the restriction would affect their re-entry into the UK after holidays.

Rather than seek to work with its Commonwealth ally on ways to combat and curtail the spread of the new variant, the lawmakers are worried that the UK government decided to ban Nigerian travellers outright from entering their country.

This, according to the lawmakers, is in sharp contrast to that of the United States government, whose response is for travellers to produce evidence of negative test result at the point of departure and a day two test result after arrival in their country.

MEANWHILE, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), yesterday, confirmed three more cases of the Omicron variant in Nigeria. Director-General, NCDC, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, in a statement, said in addition to the three cases announced earlier on December 1, this brings the total number of confirmed cases of the Omicron variant detected in Nigeria to six. All the Omicron cases so far were detected in persons with recent travel history to South Africa in November.

He said the Omicron variant is a source of global concern because of its increased risk of transmissibility and its potential to escape protective immune responses induced by natural infection and/or vaccination. Adetifa said there is currently no evidence of generalised or community transmission of this variant in Nigeria.
HOWEVER, Omicron cases have been confirmed in at least nine African countries. Countries include Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

In East Africa, Uganda reported its first 11 cases of Omicron, yesterday. The variant was detected in travellers from South Africa, UAE, DRC, Netherlands and Nigeria who arrived at Entebbe International Airport on November 29 and are currently in isolation.

All of the travellers have mild symptoms, Minister of Health, Jane Ruth Aceng, said. Five are from Nigeria and two came from South Africa and UAE, while one case each came from DRC and Netherlands, she said.

Explaining reasons the UK added Nigeria to the travel red list, the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, said the UK made the decision to protect the public health of its people while the government tried to understand the new variant.

She noted that despite the ban, the British government would work closely with the Nigerian authorities as the world faced the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Laing further explained that the decision would be reviewed at the three-week review point on December 20.

According to the statement, “this decision is a precautionary measure to protect public health in the UK, while we try to understand this new variant,” the envoy was quoted as saying in a statement issued by Ndidiamaka Eze, Press and Public Affairs Officer, British High Commission.

“I know that this decision will have a significant impact on people in both our countries, particularly at this time of year. We continue to work very closely with the Nigerian authorities in tackling the pandemic and commend their ongoing work.”