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Omicron: UK, Canada tighten noose on Nigeria

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The United Kingdom and Canadian governments yesterday tightened the noose on Nigeria, following her link with the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Recall that the Uk government had on the weekend included Nigeria on its ‘’red list’’ of countries placed on the travel ban.

The UK suspends processing of visitor visa applications from Nigeria

As though that was not enough, British High Commission said yesterday it would “pause making decisions” on visitor visa applications from all red list countries, including Nigeria.

The decision, announced in a statement issued by the commission yesterday, came hours after the UK added Nigeria to its travel red list.

“To support the UK government’s aim to protect public health from COVID-19 and associated variants of concern (VOC), UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) will pause making decisions on visitor visa applications in all red list countries, including Nigeria, until travel restrictions are lifted,” the high commission said in a statement.

This is even as the Canadian government said also yesterday that it would no longer accept results of COVID test from Nigeria, Egypt, South and seven other countries on the continent.

UK residents travelling from Nigeria to pay £2,285 for a 10-day quarantine

The UK government also yesterday came up with fresh conditions for Nigerians and its citizens travelling to the UK.from Nigeria

It said British citizens and residents travelling from Nigeria to the UK should expect to spend £2,285 on hotel quarantine for 10 days.

According to the UK guidance on quarantine arrangements for persons who are travelling in from countries on the red list, British citizens or residents coming in from Nigeria are required to quarantine for 10 days on arrival at a government-approved hotel at a cost of £2,285 for an adult.

There is an “additional rate for adult (or child over 11)” at £1,430, while an “additional rate for a child aged 5 to 11” is £325.

Quarantine costs do not apply to children under five, according to the document.

However, the UK said it would consider an arrangement for persons who have financial challenges.

“The price includes transport to and from your quarantine hotel; accommodation, food and drink for the whole of your stay; any COVID-19 tests you need to take while you quarantine.

“If you believe you will suffer severe financial hardship if you have to pay the full cost of your managed quarantine or testing fees before you travel, then hardship arrangements may be available to you,’’ the guideline read.

Meanwhile, a petition by Dalia Elbeih, a UK citizen, to the British parliament seeking to allow fully vaccinated people coming from red list countries to isolate at home had exceeded 78,000 signatures at the time of this report.

“The hotel quarantine is very expensive and non-affordable. I believe that there should be an exemption for fully vaccinated people and who had a negative PCR to isolate at their place of residence,” the petition read.

The petition, which the UK government had responded to on July 6, had a deadline of December 10 and will be considered for debate in the UK parliament if it reaches 100,000 signatures.

We can no longer accept results of COVID test from Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, others – Canadian govt

Similarly, the Canadian government said it would no longer accept results of molecular COVID tests done in Nigeria and nine other African countries.

The other affected countries are Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Canada had, on November 30, banned travellers from the 10 countries over concerns about the spread of the Omicron COVID variant.

In the “quick facts” section of its travel advisory, the government said Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and people with status under the Indian Act who had been in the affected countries are allowed entry into Canada.

It, however, added that they would be required to obtain proof of a valid negative COVID test from a third country.

This implies that such travellers would need an in-transit PCR test result for entry into Canada.

“Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and people with status under the Indian Act who have been in these countries—Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Zimbabwe—in the 14 days before travel to Canada will be required to obtain, within 72 hours of departure, a valid negative COVID-19 molecular test in a third country before continuing their journey to Canada,” the statement read.

The statement noted that travellers from the aforementioned countries would also be expected to complete testing upon arrival to Canada, regardless of their vaccination status or having had a previous history of testing positive for COVID-19.

‘’They will also be required to complete a test on Day 8 after arrival and quarantine for 14 days, while those arriving by air will be required to stay in a designated quarantine facility while they await their arrival test result.

“They will be permitted onward travel once they have received a negative arrival test result. Those arriving by land may be allowed to proceed directly to their suitable quarantine location.

“If they do not have a suitable and robust quarantine plan—where they will not have contact with anyone with whom they haven’t travelled with—or do not have private transportation to their place of quarantine, they will be directed to stay at a designated quarantine facility.

“There will be increased scrutiny of quarantine plans for travellers from these countries and rigorous monitoring to ensure travellers are complying with quarantine measures.

“Further, PHAC is contacting travellers, regardless of their vaccination status or having had a previous history of testing positive for COVID-19, who have entered Canada from these countries in the past 14 days to direct them to be tested and to quarantine while they wait for the results of those tests,’’ the statement read further.

However, the Presidential Steering Committee, PSC, will be meeting within the week to come up with a robust response.

This is as health professionals differed yesterday over the travel ban by the UK government as some asked the government to come up with appropriate retaliation to the ban, while others said Nigeria had no reason to complain because the federal government failed to do its job.

Head, Technical Secretariat of the PSC, Dr Mukhtar Muhammed, could not be reached yesterday as he rejected calls placed to his known telephone line, while also failing to respond to a WhatsApp text message.

But, a top source in the PSC said despite Nigeria’s principle of reciprocity, the decision to counter the UK would not be unilaterally taken by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF.

“There is a lot of politicking and diplomacy involved in taking such decisions. There is a summit slated for Monday (today) and Tuesday. The issue is likely to come up.

‘’The PSC will meet and take briefings from relevant organs like Foreign Affairs, Aviation and others before it can come up with a robust response to the UK,” said the source.

On her part, spokesperson to Geoffery Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs Esther Sunsuwa, said the ministry will respond at the appropriate time

“We will respond at the appropriate time, but for now, we have no official statement on that,’’ Sunsuwa told Vanguard on phone last night.

Health professionals react

Reacting to the UK ban yesterday, health professionals expressed divergent views on the issue, as the Omicron variant spread to at least 38 countries.

In his reaction, President of the Nigeria Infectious Disease Society, NIDS, Prof. Dimie Ogoina, said the addition of Nigeria to the UK red list was unnecessary and not proportionate to the current threat of the omicron variant.

Ogoina, who noted that the UK government’s justification for this decision was based on the 27 cases of the Omicron variant in the UK linked to travel from Nigeria, said the variant had already spread to more than 38 countries.

According to him, there is likely already community transmission in most of the countries where the variant has been found

He said: “Consequently, instituting a travel ban for a few countries does not stop the virus from spreading. With over 120 cases already reported in the UK, it is probable there is already community transmission in this country.

“It seems the institution of travel bans by most countries is out of panic and not necessarily based on science. Travel bans have never stopped the international spread of any variant and the same applies to Omicron.

“Nigeria should continue to strengthen its surveillance, especially at all points of entry. We must ramp up our genomic surveillance capacity, so we can detect all variants of the virus in Nigeria, including Omicron.

‘’When detected, we ought to determine the peculiarity of the variant in Nigeria, with regard to transmissibility, severity and clinical outcomes.”

Corroborating his views, a renowned medical laboratory scientist & public health Analyst, Dr Casmir Ifeanyi, said the UK’s decision was a misplaced decision and condemnable, asking the federal government to reciprocate the ban.

He described the situation as worrisome in the sense that when the whole world was supposed to work together as a global community, some were on a mission of building walls.

He said singling out African countries for the ban was condemnable and unacceptable.

“It’s very unfortunate that the Omicron variant has elicited diplomatic dimension. It’s of public knowledge that the virus did not originate from Africa, singling out African countries for the ban is condemnable, unacceptable and a misplaced decision.

‘’But if we continue to build walls because of Omicron variant, it simply means that the entire globe is falling under the virus.

“I expect leaders of Africa countries, particularly the Presidents of Nigeria and South Africa, to speak up and also recall diplomats from those countries. We need to show them that as a continent, we may not have advanced technology, but we are resilient in nature,’’ he said.

Ifeanyi said some other countries would follow the UK example if the federal government failed to act now.

‘’This makes it important for the country to explore some other diplomatic options as well as a response to this approach in managing a global challenge.

“We need to ban flights coming from the United Kingdom as well as the United State of America. If we do not do that, we will not come to the round table to discuss and we would always be at receiving end.”

On the allegation that Africa countries were cutting corners, Ifeanyi said such accusation was baseless, “Did we all recall that The Netherland came out a day after South Africa’s declaration to claim that they already discovered Omicron before South Africa? Why did they keep silent until South Africa alerted the entire world?

“So who is not transparent in the entire effort to combat COVID-19 virus? The person that discovered and keeps it secret or the person who finds the variant and makes it public? If there is any reason to cut corners, it’s because they are making access to technology difficult for our people.”

Also, in a chat with Vanguard, the Chairman of Bio-vaccine Board, and a Board member of the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation, GAVI, Prof. Oyewale Tomori, said people needed to look at it from the point of growing cases in those countries and the need to take proactive measures.

“For instance, England has recorded over 27 cases and still counting. Significant numbers of those cases are linked to travel with Nigeria. So tell me who should be angry?

“When you lie, cheat, falsify lab results of those travelling out of Nigeria, and you are caught at the other end, you should be ashamed and not angry.

“Until we address this disgrace, they will continue to ban us. We need to get our house in order and stop this anger. We need to be expecting more bans. As to the implications of the ban, ask South Africa. It has affected movements, trade, holiday travels, among others, negatively.”

Also reacting to the issue yesterday, President of the Nigerian Medical Association, NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah, said countries had the right to protect their citizens, adding that if Nigeria felt strongly about the UK ban, the country should update its travel restriction

According to him, the ban should be seen as a protective strategy and not retaliation.

“We can do the same if we feel strongly about it but unfortunately, the circumstances are not favourable to Nigeria. They have to defend and protect their people. It is no longer a question of if they are right or wrong.

‘’The reality is that they discovered Nigerians who have the Omicron variant, and they ban Nigeria just like they did to South Africa.

“I cannot say the country should retaliate because it is a clear policy issue. Nigeria can also ban other countries and that is not the first time they have done that.

‘’I advise that the Nigeria government should continue to investigate cases and for Nigerians to observe safety protocols.”

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