The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi, on Monday said the National Assembly and the Ministry of Aviation were considering banning flights from the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries with high rates of COVID-19.
Adeyemi, who stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, said a decision on the issue would be announced next week.
The Federal Government’s plan may not be unconnected with pressures on it to stop further spread of coronavirus by banning flights from nations with high rates of the virus.
Recall that the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Prof Innocent Ujah, had in an interview with our source on Sunday, said travellers from the UK and the US were worsening COVID-19 cases in Nigeria.
The NMA president stated, “Government knows that they (travellers from the UK and the US) are the ones responsible for increase in cases and the results have shown that and government knows what they should do.”
Although the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had on Thursday imposed fresh requirements on passengers from the UK and South Africa, flights from the two countries were not banned.
The PTF only opened registers for travellers from the two countries because of deadlier strains of coronavirus discovered there.
It, however, said there were no new strains of the virus in Nigeria. But there are fears that travellers who obtained fake COVID-19 results could have brought the new virus into the country.
According to worldometers.info, as of 6:55pm on Monday, the US had recorded 19,589,952 COVID-19 cases with 341,332 deaths.
The UK had 2,329,730 COVID-19 cases with 71,109 deaths. Sweden had 396,048 cases with 8,279 recorded.
As of Sunday, Nigeria had recorded 84,414 cases of the virus with 1,254 deaths. But deaths from the virus have increased sharply since the second wave started last month.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had said after a drop in the death rate from September to November, it went up to 74 this month.
Adeyemi, in the interview with our source, said the National Assembly and the Federal Government were concerned about the second wave of COVID-19.
He stated that the joint National Assembly Committees on Aviation, the Aviation Ministry and agencies in the sector had been holding regular meetings in the past few days on the matter.
He said the meetings were seriously discussing possible impacts of the proposed ban and other associated issues.
Adeyemi said, “We are still trying to study the situation so as to know the appropriate steps to take. It is a very sad situation no doubt.
“The National Assembly and the Aviation Ministry are looking at what really should be done on the call to ban some of the flights coming in, not only from the United Kingdom, but also other countries where the pandemic spreads are more severe.
“The National Assembly Joint Committee on Aviation is discussing with the Ministry of Aviation and we are looking at what can be done and the right steps to be taken.
“COVID-19 is of great concern to everyone and it has been proven that it is real. Nigeria as a country has been able to contain the situation because our people are very conscious of the protocols.
“The fact that we are experiencing the second wave is a concern. So, the ministry and the National Assembly are considering an outright ban of flights from the pandemic prone countries like the United Kingdom, the United States, the Asian countries, Sweden, among others.
“We have been studying the situation. We would arrive at a conclusion in the next few days. We are looking at the figures, the rate of infection, the manner of infection and government response.
“We are studying the implications of the outright ban of flights and whether it would be of any importance to the containment of the virus.
“We have protocols for visitors arriving in Nigeria which we make sure are being strictly observed. Notwithstanding, in the next few days, we would know what to do.
“The Senate and the House of Representatives committees on Aviation, the Ministry of Aviation, and all the agencies under the ministry have been engaging in regular meetings over the situation.
“By next week, we would come up with a definite conclusion on whether there would be an outright ban of flights from the affected countries or the next steps to take.”
FG won’t do anything that will affect health of Nigerians – Aviation ministry
When contacted, the Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, James Oduadu, said a possible flight ban had to be in tandem with neighbouring countries.
He said, “If Nigeria is going to do a flight ban, it will be in alliance with our neighbouring countries. I assure you that we are monitoring the situation very closely. The government will not do anything that will affect the health of Nigerians.
“The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority released a notice to air operators two days ago on some passengers coming in from the United Kingdom and South Africa. Apart from that, I am not aware of any ban on flights. At the moment, I am not aware of any flight ban. The situation may change tomorrow, but currently, I am not aware.”
Fresh flight ban can hurt economy, stakeholders warn
An aviation consultant, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, told our source that he was not in support of any ban on flights as long as the guidelines set by the NCAA were still adhered to.
He said, “What the government has done is to increase surveillance and strict observation of passengers. The protocols are still the same. That of the United Kingdom and South Africa is 96 hours. You are also required to have a fly permit.
“Although people are clamouring for a total ban of flights. I am not in support of the total ban. In order to ensure that the airlines comply, an additional fine of $3,500 has been imposed on airlines on each passenger that violates the protocol. I think these guidelines are good for now and we have to increase surveillance.”
The spokesman for Dana Air, Mr Kingsley Ezenwa, asked the government to continue to enforce COVID-19 protocols.
He said, “The best thing should be the enforcement of protocols. A flight ban could hurt the economy at this point in time. For us, we are still keeping to the protocols 100 per cent. From the entrance of the airport to the final boarding and onto the aircraft, the protocols are still there. Travellers are to use hand sanitisers on the flight.”
In Lagos State, the Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi, on Monday raised the alarm that international travellers in the state were gaining access to fake COVID-19 certificates.
Abayomi, at a briefing in Alausa, said the state government was putting machinery in place to apprehend those doing such things.
The commissioner also raised the alarm that there had been an increase in positive cases from inbound travellers.
“Positivity for inbound travellers is on the rise as Nigerians in Diaspora return to spend Christmas in Lagos. It has come to our attention that a number of people are patronising individuals that sell fake COVID-19 results.
“We are currently putting in processes to identify both buyers and sellers and we will not hesitate to prosecute them,” he said.
48% COVID-19 patients in Lagos are asymptomatic
Abayomi also said 48 per cent of COVID-19 patients in the state did not know they were carriers of the virus.
He noted that 16 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in the state had serious symptoms, while one per cent was in critical condition.
He said, “48 per cent of people infected with COVID-19 have very mild symptoms or even asymptomatic. Some of them don’t even know they’re carrying the virus.
“No fewer than 35 per cent of the COVID-19 patients know that they are not well, but they’re not that unwell to warrant them going to the hospital. But the 16 per cent of the cases with severe symptoms, and one per cent with a critical condition are all ideally to be managed under supervision in any one of our isolation facilities.
“Now there is a problem going on in Lagos, and that problem is that most people who have these symptoms will go and treat themselves for malaria first. By the time we get to know about them, it is usually a week afterward. Cough, fever, shortness of breath, weakness, chest pain, loss of taste, loss of appetite and catarrh are not symptoms of malaria. So yes, if you have a fever, I agree if you have body pain, but if you have a cough, and catarrh and loss of smell or taste, and we’re in a pandemic that is actively transmitting itself in the community, it is likely to be COVID-19 or less likely to be malaria or typhoid.”
The commissioner added that the state had concluded plans to inaugurate 10 oxygen centres to manage critical cases.
According to him, the centres at Maternal and Child Centre, Eti Osa; General Hospital, Alimosho and the General Hospital Isolo have been completed, while the centre at Primary Health Centre, Aguda, Surulere will be completed next week.
Seven oxygen centres will be completed in two weeks, according to the commissioner.