• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

FG, impose travel restrictions now

National Assembly, private sector urge travel ban from virus-endemic nations

Nigeria risks eroding the gains it has made tackling the threat of the spread of covid-19 by allowing travellers from high-risk countries into Nigeria. We call on the government to immediately impose travel bans from countries with cases of infections and deaths from the novel coronavirus.

The response from the Nigerian government authorities including the Federal Ministers of Health and the Lagos state government has been commendable, so far.

On Monday, Olorunnimbe Mamora, the minister of state for Health told journalists that Nigeria has designated eight countries including France, Germany, Spain, China, Japan, Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea as high-risk nations. Travellers from these countries will undertake secondary screening at on arrival and self-isolate for 14 days after entry.

We think this is not enough. And the latest case, a Nigerian returning from the UK, confirms our doubts. If there’s anything this pandemic has taught us, it is that everything else pales into insignificance without good health.

Other African countries are taking no chances as they race to stop the spread of the virus on their shores. Sudan has sealed off all sea ports, land crossings and airports. Egypt is suspending all flights from all its airports to contain the virus ravaging the country.

Djibouti even though has recorded just a single case of coronavirus, has suspended all international flights into the country. South Africa, with about 61 cases and the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, has placed restrictions on foreign nationals entering into the country from high-risk countries including Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States,

Across Africa, hundreds of international flights have been cancelled and even visas issued to nationals from affected countries have been revoked. Why then is Nigeria, a country with a shambolic health infrastructure and an insanely abnormal poverty rate unwilling to close its doors to prevent the spread of virus that has infected 183,850 people, killed 7,181 across the world, as at today?

This is a government that wasted no time to shut the land borders to check the inflow of smuggled goods including rice. Yet it hesitates to entertain the risk it faces from leaving its borders open as the novel coronavirus spreads, upends daily lives and disrupts economies. Coronavirus, surely, is much more lethal than rice smuggling.

To be clear, we think it is unwise to shut the borders to trade on account of smuggling when we could employ market measures.

It is important to note that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has advised countries not to apply blind travel bans and restrictions in a way that would imperil trade and travel but as the crises in Italy shows, no one talks about trade and travel in the midst of rising number of the dead. Besides, western nations ignored the WHO advice in 2014 during the Ebola epidemic and banned travellers from even African countries with no recorded cases.

The Nigerian government needs to be more pragmatic.  It must learn from measures being applied by other African countries. Our healthcare system marked by a shortage of doctors, failing primary healthcare centres and run on a shoe-string budget is incapable of dealing with this crisis. Patients go to federal and state teaching hospitals to treat malaria; a major outbreak will stretch our resources thin and lead to the avoidable death of thousands of patients and healthcare workers.

The limited cases of the virus recorded in Nigeria provide an opportunity to improve our preparedness. We must identify the age-range that are most susceptible, especially those above 60, are diabetic and cancer patients and plan for their care. We must begin active sensitisation of citizens using the mass media and social media platforms to teach proper hygiene and social distancing from people have symptoms.

As can be seen in the infections of prominent people, including the wife of the Canadian prime minister and a government minister in Australia, no one is immune. WHO on Monday said it is possible the virus can survive in the air which adds a new dimension to the threat it poses.

Wisely, the government has set aside funds to deal with the pandemic. It must resist the temptation to fritter it away on unnecessary frivolities like “project cars” for irresponsible lawmakers or mindless allowances for ineffectual government officials. It should be spent on equipping health workers, gowns, masks, gloves, oxygen etc.

It should also wisely impose travel restrictions to curb the spread of covid-19.