• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Uncertainty over FG’s stance on international flight leaves intending travellers sweating

Flights divert as Niger shut down airspace

As countries across the world begin banning passenger flights from the United Kingdom (UK) following the spread of the new coronavirus variant, passengers who have booked their flights from the UK to Nigeria and vice versa are getting apprehensive as to what the government’s decision would be.

Already, about 17 countries have banned passenger flights from the UK. These countries include France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Kuwait, Belgium, Turkey, Denmark, Israel, Ireland, Bulgaria, Latvia, El Salvador, Romania, Luxembourg, and Czech Republic.

Experts have called on the Federal Government to stop flights from the UK now or Nigeria may face another impending lockdown. That could spell trouble for the economy, which slipped into its second recession in five years and is only gradually recovering from the pandemic-induced lockdown in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, intending travellers who have their tickets booked are in a dilemma on whether to cancel their flights or take the next available flight to Nigeria, as there is not enough clarity on how Nigeria responds to the new COVID-19 variant.

“I have a flight from London to Nigeria booked for December 28, but I am worried and unsure whether to cancel the flight and rebook, which will cost me more or whether I should just wait,” a traveller who identified herself as Stella told BusinessDay.

“I wish the government can let us know what it is planning and give us time to make alternate arrangements,” Stella said.

Stella is only one of many Nigerians who are sweating over the impact of the COVID-19 variant on international travel.

The UK last week warned of a new coronavirus variant that is thought to be up to 70 percent more transmissible than the original strain of the disease. According to the World Health Organisation, the new variant has so far been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia.

However, scientists at the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), at the Redeemers University in Ede, Osun State, claim to have identified the new variant in Nigeria.

The scientists said on Monday, through a publication in Virological, a website for the global Genomics community, that they found the same variant “lineage B.1.1.7” existing in Osun State since August 3, when the first sample was collected.

Atiku Abubakar, former vice president, has asked the government to immediately restrict flights from the UK.

In a statement, the former vice president blamed the first wave of the virus on the late response of the government to close the airports.

He said action must be taken now to prevent a recurring situation.

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“The reason Nigeria took a harder than necessary hit during the first wave of the #COVID19 virus is that the Federal Government failed to heed the warnings of well-meaning Nigerians, like myself and others, to shut down our borders once the virus became a pandemic,” Atiku said in a statement.

“The new strain of COVID19 that has erupted in the United Kingdom, and specifically, London, can add to Nigeria’s health emergency if we do not act with an abundance of caution and temporarily halt all flights to and from the UK until this new strain is brought under control.

“Already, prudent nations are taking prompt action, and Nigeria must take necessary precautions due to the volume of air traffic between Nigerian airports and London, where this new strain has erupted.”

Some Nigerians have dragged the government on twitter over its indecision to ban flights from the UK before the situation gets out of hand.

Bankole Akintunde Adebayo with twitter handle @AdeBanqie stated, “Everybody is banning flight from the UK and some other countries but Nigeria will not do so until damage is done.”

Habeeb Blue heart with twitter handle @Habeeblah2 stated, “It is when the new strain of coronavirus enters the country’s borders that the federal government would start taking a reactive approach, which would have been late to curb or curtail.

“Government is never proactive in handling emergency crises, always too late for the needful.”

Juliet Orjiogo with twitter handle @Babilicious_J stated “Government is more concerned about shutting schools and businesses down. Same thing they did last time. They waited till there was enough importation of Covid before doing the needful.”

For Ikechi Uko, a travel expert, the best thing to do is for the federal government to stop flights from the UK for at least two weeks or get ready for a second lockdown which would worsen the country’s economy.

“There is a new strain of COVID-19 virus in the UK and this should have alerted us immediately to stop travels from the UK. We already have a new strain locally. We are unable to enforce the rule for people to put on their facemasks, how then can we enforce fourteen days isolation for travellers and COVID tests after seven days?

“It is easier to restrict travel from the UK for two weeks than face a second lockdown in January and we all know lockdown spells doom for the economy and the travel industry.

“The federal government needs to find out why Europe and the UK are shutting down. There is something they know they are not telling us. To stop travels to and from the UK for two weeks will be safe for everyone. The cases are rising and people are still coming back from the UK,” Uko explained.