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Lack of central database puts Nigeria on UK’s vaccine blacklist

…FG says UK giving approval to countries in phases

The Federal Government’s failure to provide a single recognised vaccine database is the major reason the United Kingdom, (UK) has refused to approve Nigeria’s vaccine certificate, BusinessDay’s findings show.

The United Kingdom (UK) relaxed its COVID-19 vaccine policy for more than 50 countries but Nigeria is missing on the list.

While the UK did not give reasons for not including Nigeria on the list of the 50 countries recognised, BusinessDay’s findings show that Nigeria has since been slow to provide a database that could help authenticate the vaccine cards of those vaccinated.

Checks show that countries that have had their vaccine certificates recognised by the UK have had to provide a single database with features that would help verify the authenticity of the vaccines, a step Nigeria has been slow to take.

Tayo Ojuri, managing partner, Aglow Aviation Support Services Limited told BusinessDay that Nigeria needs to have a single source of authenticated database and this has been the country’s major challenge.

“In Europe, they have their database synchronised to IATA travel pass. With an IATA travel pass, you have a database where you can verify the source of the vaccines and know if the vaccine cards are genuine. A data authenticated database will solve the issue. This is also the main challenge Nigeria has with Emirates,” Ojuri explained.

The UK government had said Nigeria is on the ‘amber’ list, which has restrictions for travellers to the UK, irrespective of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID.

From October 4, the UK said the new travel system comes into effect with countries and territories categorised as either “red” or “rest of the world.”

Read also: Snag for travellers as UK blacklists Nigeria’s Covid-19 vaccine certificate

Ojuri said with the temporary hitch, Nigerians would have to pay more to do another COVID-19 test and self-isolate in the UK.

Ojuri said asking Nigerians to self-isolate for 10 days, would mean restricting their movements and this may discourage business travels.

He, however, disclosed that Nigerians are still travelling to the UK despite the restrictions, adding that the demographics of Nigerians travelling to the UK are not travelling for business but to visit family and friends.

“There are many Nigerians in the diaspora. So many Nigerians are just visiting family and friends and returning back home. If they are going for business and isolating for 10 days, it’s an extra cost. So, while business travel may slow down, travel for studies, visits and holidays are still increasing,” he said.

Apart from having a synchronised database, travel experts also suggest that IATA travel passes are also accepted as an authentic means of vaccine certificate verification.

IATA Travel Pass is a mobile app that helps travellers to store and manage their verified certifications for COVID-19 tests or vaccines. It is more secure and efficient than current paper processes used to manage health requirements (the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, for example).

This is important given the potentially enormous scale of testing or vaccine verifications that will need to be securely managed.

Susan Akporiaye, the national president of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, (NANTA), said Nigeria was not listed among countries with approved vaccine certificates for now because they have not found a way to verify the authenticity of its vaccines but they are working on this.

Akporiaye noted that the British High Commission has found a way of verifying the genuineness of vaccine certificates for countries recognised.

“Nigeria had something similar when there was news making the rounds that President Trump refused to give Nigerians visas but the US ambassador said Nigeria didn’t have synchronised data.

“If Nigeria in collaboration with the UK can provide a platform where the barcodes on the vaccine cards can be inserted and information showing that the cardholder actually took the vaccine, then there won’t be issues anymore,” she said.

She also disclosed that people are still travelling to the UK despite the travel restrictions as British Airways flights for next week are almost fully booked.

“Nigerians quarantine in the UK because the UK comes at random and calls the houses and if the person is not there, they ban them from visiting the UK for 10 years and they will be deported back to Nigeria. Nigerians are law-abiding once there are penalties,” she said.

Onyema Justice, a frequent business traveller to the UK said he was troubled about the situation as he had to get fully vaccinated in Nigeria, to enable him to carry out his business in the UK seamlessly, only to find out that he has to undergo 10 days quarantine despite being fully vaccinated.

“How do I self-isolate for 10 days in the UK when I have business targets to meet? This only shows down business for me. I just hope the government of Nigeria can work closely with the UK to resolve the issue,” he said.

In a statement on its website, the UK government released a list of over 50 countries with approved COVID-19 vaccination programmes and proof of vaccination for travel to England.

“Fully vaccinated residents in other countries not yet part of the inbound policy, as well as those partially vaccinated, will still have to take a pre-departure test, PCR tests for day 2 and day 8 after arrival, and self-isolate for 10 days, with the option to test to release after 5 days,” the statement reads.

“The UK government is continuing to work with international partners as we seek to more regularly expand the policy to further countries and territories.”

The government said that the new simplified travel system meant that eligible fully vaccinated passengers and eligible under-18s returning from over 50 countries and territories, not on the red list, can do so without needing to complete a pre-departure test (PDT), a day 8 test or enter a 10-day self-isolation period, making it easier for those travelling — whether that’s to see friends and family, or on business trips.

The statement further explained that eligible fully vaccinated passengers with an approved vaccine and recognised certificate from a country not on the red list would be able to replace their day 2 test with a cheaper lateral flow test, reducing the cost of tests on arrival into England.

However, the Federal Government, reacting on Tuesday, said Nigeria was not among the countries approved “because the UK Government is reviewing vaccination certification programme of countries in phases and it is not yet Nigeria’s turn”.

According to Faisal Shuaib, executive secretary, national primary healthcare development agency (NPHCDA) the UK will be assessing Nigeria’s vaccination program in few weeks’ time.

“The current listing of countries with approved vaccination certification has just started in the UK. They are reviewing the countries’ programmes in phases. If you go through the list of 50 closely, no African country made the list.

“From my communication with the UK Government officials, the vaccines administered in Nigeria are approved by the UK Government. They are also involved with the vaccination programme in Nigeria through the Foreign, Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO) and they are optimistic that by the time Nigeria’s COVID-19 vaccination programme certification is assessed, it will be approved” Shuaib said.

He spoke: “There are many countries in the world, so we like many other countries are in the queue for this assessment. Once it gets to our turn, we are more likely going to get approved in the coming weeks. Like the UK Government have clearly stated, the process of assessment would occur in phases.”

Shuaib further informed that the Nigerian government was working to ensure rapid uptake of vaccinations, but noted that more work still needed to be done.

He informed that Nigeria on Monday received 501,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX facility as donation from the Government of France, adding that the country would also be receiving additional 3,577,860 doses of Pfizer vaccines within the next two weeks.

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