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COVID-19 numbers seen spiking on Christmas travels

The influx of passengers in Christmas travels from various countries will cause a spike in COVID-19 cases in Nigeria, stakeholders tell BusinessDay.

Although the rise in airfares as a result of an increase in foreign exchange rates has led to a sharp drop in Christmas bookings, bookings are still on for essential travels such as family visits and students returning from schools.

BusinessDay’s checks show that Nigeria has only fully administered (vaccinated) at least 8,929,327 doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far, indicating about 2.2 percent of the country’s population, while the UK and the US have fully vaccinated about 70 percent of their population.

Experts say the data show many Nigerians are still vulnerable and can easily contract the virus.

Truly, as countries open up more opportunities for social activities via travels, events, concerts, religious activities, parties, etc., the more the opportunity for COVID-19 infections and its variant emergence, Seyi Adewale, CEO, Mainstream Cargo Limited, says.

Adewale states that from observations, there are three major opportunistic areas that would aid the spread of COVID-19 during the festive period, which are religious gatherings, clubs, lounges and parties, and concerts and shows.

“During these categories of events or programs, participants usually have a lower sense of personal protection, regulation, and guard due to temporary pleasures, excitements, niceties, and/or illusions.

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“Also, during this period, children are on holidays, and they are particularly potential COVID-19 carrier agents and asymptomatic, visit the aged/elderly through family visitations, and this portends a danger of super spread,” he says.

He however notes that Nigeria now has more knowledge and data on COVID-19 and this has allayed fears generally than when little was known about it.

This has informed the government’s decision to open up the economy mostly via air travel because the US, for example, has 192 million fully vaccinated citizens with 431 million COVID-19 doses.

“This gives the US more confidence to relax its restrictions. US targets opening up to only fully vaccinated travelers, which lowers the risk of infections inclusive of the non-pharmaceutical protocol. The advent of (tablet) drugs tends to further lower the risks thereof,” Adewale notes.

In a recent report by Ogho Okiti, managing director, BusinessDay Media Limited, there were more COVID-19 cases and new variants discovered during and immediately after peak periods of travel.

For instance, the highest cases were recorded between December 2020 and February 2021 (Christmas travel), and May to June 2021 (summer travels).

Experts, therefore, say that to avoid a rise in COVID-19 cases during Christmas, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Nigeria Port Health Services must put in place measures to contain the spread of the virus.

Emirates Airlines president, Tim Clark says he sees a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic coming from Europe.

“I see a fourth wave coming through and we have all sorts of concerns about what may happen,” Clark said.

“We’ve got to look at it very carefully, because if the European markets — which have already started to open in a big way — start to go the other way we’re going to have to deal with that. But we will deal with it. We’re very good at working around problems, and we’ll just do what we have to do,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that Europe was once again the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The region’s biggest economy, Germany, is currently reporting around 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day, and France has also reported a surge in cases. Austria, meanwhile, is expected to shortly impose lockdown restrictions on millions of unvaccinated people in an effort to contain rising infections.

Europe continues to be one of the most visited destinations by Nigerians.

Sindy Foster, principal managing partner, Avaero Capital Partners, says as Christmas nears and travels increase, she doubts if Nigeria will relax the rules for unvaccinated visitors for the simple reason that the fully vaccinated can still catch COVID and infect other people.

“While countries such as the UK and US have relaxed rules for fully vaccinated people this is likely because they have vaccinated a fair amount of residents. Nigeria has not got the same luxury. So, I would anticipate that it will maintain the requirement for PCR tests before departure and on day 2 of arrival for fully vaccinated visitors in line with the risk assessment, which they will have conducted for Nigeria,” she states.

For Alexander Nwuba, managing director, Smile Air Ghana and former managing director, Associated Airlines and WestAir Benin, Nigeria has been able to manage the COVID-19 crisis just like they had with Ebola.

“We do many things wrong but in the health space, it is either we recognize the consequences of doing things in our regular way or God has been kind. Nigerians, unfortunately, have a low vaccine uptake but the number of illnesses and death hasn’t met a fraction of the fears of the international community, therefore.

“I’m confident that the measures we have taken will shield us through this flu season, which is the colder temperatures in the temperate zones. The rest of the world is opening up and they have had high vaccine uptake so the risk is reduced. However, no matter what, COVID-19 prevention is a personal issue and individuals must continue to conform to the protocols.”

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