Nigerians are livid over UK’s omicron travel ban


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As the UK’s omicron travel ban stirs a racism debate in Nigeria, health officials in the country worry Nigeria’s low vaccination rates could trigger a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections.

Nigeria is one of all countries, all of them African, who are banned from entering the UK

Nigeria became the eleventh African country to be added to the UK’s red list earlier this week over fears travelers from the country could help spread the omicron COVID-19 variant in Britain.

Announcing the ban, the UK’s Department of Health said 21 Omicron cases, or 16% of all omicron known cases at the time, were linked to travel from Nigeria.

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Ngerians join nationals of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Angola, Malawi, Eswatini, Zambia, Lesotho and Namibia who are banned from entering the UK.

British or Irish nations, or those who have residents rights in the UK, can only enter if they go into a 10-day hotel quarantine, paid at their own expense.

The British travel ban is “not driven by science” and is “unjust, unfair, punitive, indefensible and discriminatory,” Nigeria’s Information Minister Lai Mohammed told reporters on Monday.

New variant
Omicron — designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization — was first reported by scientists in South Africa and Botswana.

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But its country of origin is not yet certain, and it has since been detected in numerous European countries as well as in Asia and the United States.

Nigerians say it’s racist that the UK only has African countries on its red list, despite the growing prevalence of omicron outside the continent.

“This is not fair,” said Blessing Musa, in Abuja for a visit from the UK where he studies. He faces high quarantine fees when he returns. “This is much like health apartheid.”

Hajara Yusuf in Abuja is also angry about the ban: “I see it as continuous oppression of our people — that’s Africans and under-developed countries.”

In the week up until December 2, Spain and Italy had a higher percentage of travelers testing positive for COVID-19 after arrival in England, compared to Nigeria (although the NHS report this data is based upon doesn’t give details of what variant travelers were infected with).

Nigeria is the second largest African market for UK goods

Business affected
Nigerian traders also fear that the UK travel ban will make doing business between the two countries that much harder.

Trade between the UK and Nigeria, the UK’s the second largest African market, already decreased slightly in 2020 compared to the previous year.

“It [the travel ban] will affect the economy of both countries,” businessman Jamilu Isa told DW.

Rising COVID-19 cases
At the same time as decrying the UK travel ban, Nigeria faces the threat of a coronavirus fourth wave as it sees an uptick in case numbers.

Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has warned that the positivity rate, or the number of COVID-19 tests that are positive, is on the rise in Nigeria’s commercial capital where more than 20 million people live.

Nigeria recorded 268 new COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, an 150% increase on the 107 cases recorded previous day, although the low numbers are likely due to the country’s paltry testing rate.

Testing is simply too expensive for the vast majority of Nigerians. A PCR test costs nearly €110 ($123), a vast sum where some 40% of the population live under the poverty line.

In an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, as of December 1, the West African nation began requiring government employees to be vaccinated or have tested negative in the past 72 hours.

Slow vaccination campaign
If omicron proves to be more transmissible than the predominant delta variant, Nigeria’s low vaccination rate leaves millions susceptible to infection.

Less than 4 million of Nigeria’s 206 million people, or less than 2% of its population, have been fully vaccinated so far, although health officials have set a target of vaccinating at least 55 million within the next two months.

Authorities emphasize that there are Western-manufactured vaccines available those all of those who are willing to get the jab.

But health care workers in rural regions, who can get vaccinated for free, are struggling to access the vaccine, mostly because of delayed government funding.

In private vaccination centers, residents are required to pay an administration fee of up to 6,000 naira (13 euros) — another obstacle to the vaccination campaign.

And in another blow to the government’s efforts to get jabs in arms, up to million COVID-19 vaccines are estimated to have expired in Nigeria last month without being used, according to Reuters.

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