THE Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK Safara Tunji Isola has criticised the travel bans placed on Nigeria and 10 other African countries as part of measures to curb spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, saying the move is panicky and has apartheid colourations.
Isola made the comments when he spoke with the BBC on Tuesday, the effective date for UK’s travel ban on Nigeria. Other countries previously on the country’s red list are: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“Nigeria’s position is the position for the Secretary-General of the United Nations who tagged the travel bans as travel apartheid. If you look at the issue, you cannot but agree with this position and Nigeria absolutely aligns with that.
“Travel ban will not solve the problem. We are dealing with a pandemic, it is not an epidemic that is peculiar to a specific place and COVID did not even originate from Africa. South Africa has been honest enough to bring the attention of the world to it,” he said.
The Nigerian envoy insisted that the travel ban was ‘selected and targeted’ as he called for more collaboration under the coordination of the World Health Organisation. He urged countries to implement evidence-based public health measures that would strengthen health systems and capacities to mitigate the impact of the disease.
“What we expect is the world to rise up and continue with scientific and empirical investigation to really determine the variant. As at today, Omicron in South Africa is still classified as a mild variant, no hospitalisation and no deaths. So the travel ban to me and to my country is panicky,” he added.
Meanwhile, the National Assembly and Nigeria Governor’s Forum (NGF) have rejected the travel ban imposed on Nigeria by the UK which they described as discriminatory and contrary to known international convention, and demanding a reversal.
Similarly, the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) has criticised the ban and threatened to shut down the activities of British and Canadian missions across Nigeria if they fail to revoke their decisions within 72 hours.
In view of the travel ban, many Nigerians scheduled to resume studies in the UK and those seeking to travel for the coming Christmas holiday could be denied entry.
Two weeks have elapsed since scientists in South Africa and Botswana first alerted the world to a fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variant now known as Omicron and researchers worldwide have been racing to understand the threat that the variant poses to the world.
While information about the Omicron variant remains sketchy, governments have reacted with sharp restrictions on international travels and new vaccination requirements. African countries are also stepping up measures to detect and control the spread of the variant as daily cases continue to surge.
The Omicron variant has now been reported in 50 countries and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Tuesday confirmed three additional cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases for the variant to six.
In Africa, vaccination rates remain low. Only 102 million people, or 7.5 per cent of the population, are fully vaccinated. More than 80 per cent of the population still need to receive a first dose.
Only five African nations have reached the WHO global target for countries to fully vaccinate 40 per cent of their population by the end of 2021. Botswana could become the sixth if its current vaccination rates are maintained. Just three other African countries have enough vaccine supplies to meet the targets but, at the current pace of uptake, they will be unable to do so.
“The combination of low vaccination rates, the continued spread of the virus and mutations are a toxic mix. The Omicron variant is a wake-up call that the COVID-19 threat is real. With improved supplies of vaccines, African countries should widen vaccination coverage to provide greater protection to the population,” Regional Director of the World Health Organization Matshidiso Moeti said.
Operational planning and funding challenges, vaccine delivery, communication and community engagement bottlenecks have hindered the efforts to widen vaccinations in some African countries.
The WHO and its partners are supporting countries to scale up vaccine delivery and uptake, including intensified assistance to roll out more than five million doses which are at risk of expiring by the end of the year due to their short shelf life.