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Friday, August 12, 2022

Omicron: Canada-bound Nigerian travellers decry travel ban on Nigeria

Canada-bound Nigerian travellers have expressed disappointment in the travel ban issued by the Canadian government on travellers from Nigeria following the detection of the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus in the country.

While some of the travellers were hoping to travel to the North American country for holidays, others had set their eyes on permanent immigration to what is usually termed “greener pasture”. Unfortunately, the hopes of leaving the country anytime soon may have just been dashed by the announcement of the travel ban.

According to data published by the Canadian government, the growth rate of Nigerians immigrating to Canada has exceeded some of Canada’s biggest sources of immigrants over the last half-decade.

Speaking with Nairametrics in separate interviews, they expressed fears of having to have their scheduled travel dates postponed or booked flights cancelled. They also blame the federal government’s approach, which they claim has been rather reactive than proactive since the pandemic started in 2020.

Intending travellers worried about the travel ban

John Akuma, a graduate of the University of Lagos says his flight to Toronto was scheduled for next week, but at the moment, he is unsure of his travel plans. Even though he has long been vaccinated and has all the proper documentation to show he is Covid-19 negative, the news of a travel seems to have raised fears.

“Since I read the news of the travel ban, I’m been very sad. All my friends and family are aware of my travel plans and I would not like to remain here any longer than my scheduled flight date. It took a lot to get to this position and I would not want to lose it over a matter of a virus,” Akuma said.

In the last few years, many Nigerians have immigrated to Canada in search of greener pastures, while more people are on the verge of leaving, making the immigration processes highly competitive. The reason for this high rate of immigration is not far from the prevalent situation in the country including; high level of insecurity, poor standard of education, high rate of unemployment, poor healthcare services, amongst others.

Funso Omole, a public relations consultant, who expects to travel to Manitoba, Canada by January 2022, if the travel ban is reversed by then, told Nairametrics that there seems to be fatigue in the federal government’s pro-activeness in containing the COVID-19 pandemic and many things are no longer functioning as they used to.

He said, “Take testing at government facilities, for instance, this has reduced significantly and much of what is happening now depends on people paying for tests at private laboratories. The government was providing free testing across the country but much of that has stopped. So, many patients will not be able to afford the tests now. People are also tired of complying with non-pharmaceutical measures such as wearing face masks, handwashing and distancing. Instead, they are now more concerned about making a living, more so with the fast-rising inflation.

“The federal government needs to show some seriousness now, and ensure the travel ban is lifted as soon as possible. I have been in the pool since 2019 before COVID-19 and I cannot afford to stay here for another year.

“When the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) promised the new Canadian minister that all backlog would be cleared before year-end. I was happy only for this travel ban to dash my hope. It will definitely affect the processing of Nigerians files and it is quite a disgrace that the Nigerian government was not aware of the new variant before Canada raised the alarm.”

Funmilola Ojo, another Canada-bound traveller tasked the government to swing into action before the Canadian government takes an irreversible decision, which may create further delay.

According to her, most of the COVID-19 tests done in Nigeria appears unreliable, as there have been a few cases of some travellers testing negative in Nigeria and testing positive when the same test is conducted abroad. She alleged that the administration of the vaccine test has turned into a lucrative business for some administrators.

She said, “I have a friend that tested negative for COVID in one of the approved centres in Lagos but was positive when the test was repeated in London. Aside from that, some government health workers have started making money from administering the vaccine, a development that also hinders the less priviledge from receiving the vaccine. 

“I think the government’s capacity to respond has been diminished because it has lost credibility over time in relation to managing COVID. For example, in the way it has used resources, including human resources. Right in the midst of the pandemic, there have been strikes by health workers because of non-payment of remuneration, including allowances meant to be for COVID response.”

What the experts are saying

The Chairman of the Expert Review Committee on COVID-19, Professor Oyewale Tomori, is not also impressed with the way the government handles laboratory samples.

He said, “They stopped sending samples to the other five genomic laboratories, but they will send to South Africa. This takes a lot of time but it is not just about the time, but the disgrace and absence of national pride, especially when you have similar facilities in your country.”

A professor of Medical Virology at the University of Maiduguri, Marycelin Baba in a separate interview granted before the ban, agrees with Tomori.

She said, “Nigeria definitely risks travel bans. The government of Indonesia banned us even before the announcement of the variant by the Canadian government. The announcement could only mean one thing, and that is the fact that the variant is already in our midst.

“It is however a thing of shame that we were notified of the presence of the virus by a foreign government. At this point all we can advocate for is speedy vaccination. We do not know if the variant is deadly or not but at least let people get vaccinated”.

What you should know

  • Amid the growing concerns over the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Nairametrics had reported that Canada added Egypt, Malawi, and Nigeria to the ‘travel ban’ list.
  • Nairametrics later reported that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) confirmed the first case of the Covid-19 Omicron variant also known as B.1.1.529 lineage, in Nigeria.
  • The new Omicron Covid-19 variant which was reported to have been first discovered in South Africa, has spread to some other countries which include the UK, Portugal, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Canada, Australia, Israel and Hong Kong, among other countries.
  • The WHO has listed Omicron as a “variant of concern” and countries around the world are now restricting travel from Southern Africa, where the new strain was first detected and taking other new precautions.

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