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FG Rejects Ban, Accuses UK Of Travel Apartheid over Omicron variant

The Federal Government yesterday rejected the travel ban on Nigeria by the United Kingdom following the emergence of COVID-19 Omicron variant in the country.

The UK had joined Canada to restrict travel from Nigeria and other African countries like South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.

The British Government, however, allows UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents from these countries to enter the UK.

Addressing newsmen yesterday in Abuja, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said the decision by the UK to ban travels from Nigeria was punitive and discriminatory.

He said it was as a knee-jerk reaction that could only be detrimental to the quest to tackle the pandemic.

The minister urged the British Government to immediately review the decision to put Nigeria on its red list.

He said putting Nigeria on the red list, just because of less than two dozen cases of Omicron which, by the way, did not originate in Nigeria, was unjust, unfair, punitive, indefensible and discriminatory. “The decision is also not driven by science.”

“How do you slam this kind of discriminatory action on a country of 200m people, just because of less than two dozen cases? Whereas British citizens and residents are allowed to come in from Nigeria, non-residents from the same country are banned.

“The two groups are coming from the same country, but being subjected to different conditions. Why won’t Britain allow people in both categories to come in, and be subjected to the same conditions of testing and quarantine? This is why this decision to ban travellers from Nigeria, who are neither citizens nor residents, is grossly discriminatory and punitive.”

Mohammed said imposing travel restrictions on countries would hinder the collective efforts to tackle the pandemic.

He also deplored the action by some developed countries to buy vaccines far beyond their population size, thereby blocking African nations’ access to vaccines.

“Instead of these reflex responses that are driven by fear, rather than science, why can’t the world take a serious look at the issue of access to vaccines, and ensure that it is based on the principles grounded in the right of every human to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, political belief, economic or any other social condition?

“Many developed countries have used the advantage of their enormous resources or relationship to sign agreements with manufacturers to supply their countries with vaccines ahead of making them available for use by other countries.

“Even before the clinical trials were completed, millions of doses of the most promising vaccines had been bought by Britain, US, Japan and the EU.

“Some of these countries bought doses five times the size of their population, while others, mostly in Africa, have little or no access to vaccines.

“This is the real issue to address, instead of choosing the easy path of travel bans, which the UN Secretary General called Travel Apartheid. Let the world know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.”

“We sincerely hope the British government will immediately review the decision to put Nigeria on its red list and rescind it immediately,” the minister said.

Also, the Nigeria’s High Commissioner to the UK, Sarafa Tunji Ishola, yesterday told the BBC that the reaction, in Nigeria, to the Britain’s decision to put Nigeria on its red list “is that of travel apartheid.”

“Because Nigeria is actually aligned with the position of the UN Secretary-General that the travel ban is apartheid, in the sense that we’re not dealing with an endemic situation, we’re dealing with a pandemic situation, and what is expected is a global approach, not selective.”

.Britain exempts student, work visa applications from travel ban

The UK later yesterday released a new update on the processing of visa applications for countries on its red list, saying visa applications for persons wishing to study, work or live permanently would continue to be processed.

“To support the UK Government’s aim to protect public health from COVID 19 and associated variants of concern (VOC), UK Visas & Immigration (UKVI) have paused making decisions on visitor visa applications in all red list countries until travel restrictions are lifted,” the statement reads.

“Applications in other categories (student/work/live permanently in the UK) will continue to be processed.

“If you have been in a red list country in the 10 days before you arrive in England, once you arrive, you must quarantine for 10 full days in a managed quarantine hotel (the day you arrive in England is day 0).”

It asked those wishing to get their passports back after they had made a visitor visa application before the travel restriction to contact the Visa Application Centre (VAC) where they submitted their applications and request return of their passports.

“Once you have contacted the VAC to request the return of your passport, you will need to either collect in person for free at the VAC or request a courier service for your passport to be returned to you.”

.Ministers ‘absent’ at COVID-19 Summit

Senate President Ahmad Lawan yesterday berated the Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire; the Minister of State for Health, Olorunimbe Mamora and the Permanent Secretary, Mahmuda Mamman, for being absent at the National COVID-19 Summit organised to discuss ‘ending the pandemic’ and with the theme ‘Pushing Through the Last Mile to End the Pandemic and Build Back Better’.

He said: “Before I begin my remarks, is the permanent secretary ministry of health here? I asked that question because the two ministers of health are not here. The Minister of Health, the Minister of State and the permanent secretary are not here. I believe this is not good.”

When told Ehanire was present earlier, Lawan responded, “Yes, he just left but somebody should have replaced him. Because everything we do here, the federal ministry of health is supposed to be here to garner all the resources that will come out of this. The PSC is simply an interventionist outfit. And as politicians and political leaders, we’re supposed to be very serious and committed about the health of our people.”

.N/Assembly demands prudent use of COVID-19 funds

He said the National Assembly would provide resources in 2022 budget to fight the COVID-19 pandemic but would insist on prudent use of the funds.

Lawan urged relevant health authorities to do more to minimise or eliminate the vaccine hesitancy.

The Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, said the government was prepared to vaccinate 70 per cent of Nigerians before the end of 2022.

“Nigeria has invested in vaccines that can cover over 70% of our population before the end of 2022.”

He said the summit was to recommend how to rebuild the health system and the economy for a better response to future threats.

.Govt probes UniPort TH over N950m intervention fund

The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clems Agba, yesterday said the Auditor-General of the Federation would soon be invited to audit the N950m COVID-19 intervention fund allocated to the University of Port Harcourt Teaching Hospital.

The minister spoke after a facility tour of the UPTH isolation centre in Port Harcourt.

He flayed the poor state of the isolation centre saying what was visibly on ground could not justify the fund allocated to the hospital as COVID-19 intervention fund.

“I’ve visited about 20 out of 52  Federal Medical Centres and Teaching Hospitals where we’re intervening . For me, this is the worst I’ve seen. You look at the isolation centre and if you come from home well and you enter the place, you’ll fall sick and that’s not the intervention we wanted”

“Even the molecular lab is so small, so congested. We were in Kano last week, they put up a brand new building, very well laid out, very clean facilities and with equipment. I don’t see that here. I cannot tell whether the funds have been judiciously applied or not until the auditor’s team comes to have a look at it.  From what I’ve seen here, I don’t think that the fund has been judiciously applied,”

“We’ve released the sum of N950m for each of the 52 centres to build molecular labs and furnish them, isolation centres for 10 bedded ICU units and for personal protective equipment and this was done in the 52 hospitals. When the Auditor-General’s team comes, the result of their report will determine whether EFCC or ICPC will have to come in,” he said.

The Chief Medical Director of UPTH, Prof. Henry Ugboma, said the hospital management made judicious use of the fund as it was channeled into four areas: the ICU unit, the molecular lab, personnel protective equipment and infrastructure.

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