Omicron and the UK red list – Thisday

The decision to put Nigeria on the red list is ill-advised

Last Saturday, the British government put Nigeria on its Covid-19 Red List, following claims that some travellers who arrived their country with Omicron–the latest variant of the virus–were traced to our country. While travellers on transit are allowed to connect flights to other destinations at the airside, there is a temporary travel ban for all non-UK and non-Irish citizens and residents who have been in Nigeria in the last 10 days, which means they would be refused entry into the United Kingdom.

The federal government has described this decision by UK authorities as discriminatory because the same standard is not being applied to other counties outside the continent aside the fact that there is no objective or scientific basis for it. Questions are particularly being asked as to why most of the countries placed on this controversial red list are from Africa. It becomes even more curious that Zimbabwe, where no one had tested positive for Omicron, was placed on the red list. That visa applications have been suspended in these countries indicate that the decision was more political than any attempt to curtail Covid-19.

It is noteworthy that after South Africa announced the detection of Omicron, Netherlands disclosed that the COVID-19 variant had been in their country. The UK has not announced a ban of Dutch travellers. Meanwhile, there is no report that the new variant has recorded fatality anywhere in Africa. Not even in South Africa, which first announced the presence of the variant. But there are reports that Omicron is spreading in Europe as many of the countries prepare for the 4th wave of a pandemic that has refused to go away.

The Secretary-General of United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has joined voices with other international stakeholders to condemn the decision of the UK. “We have the instruments to have safe travels, let us use those instruments to avoid this kind of… allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable,” said Guterres. “What is unacceptable is to have one part of the world condemned to a lockout when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant that, by the way, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe as we know.”

Since the UK authorities have pledged to review their decision of putting Nigeria on the red list by 20th December, it is hoped that common sense will soon prevail. Already, the travel plans of many Nigerians who see UK as second home have been shattered because if they come to Nigeria, each of them would pay 2, 285 pounds for a 10-day quarantine when they return to the UK. Also, many Nigerians who had planned to visit the UK during this Christmas holiday will have to shelve the plan because they will not be allowed entry.

Meanwhile, international travel remains the preserve of a tiny elite in Nigeria. That elite happens to be among the 3% of the population that has been vaccinated. Curiously, the UK authorities have not proved that vaccinated citizens in their country are being infected significantly by the Omicron variant. This leaves the unfortunate conclusion that the latest travel ban against Nigerians is based on grounds not totally accounted for by science. It would be a sad day when nations begin to hide under the Covid-19 emergency to enforce immigration policies based on race.

The UK action on this instance is bad precedent from a country with such a long historical association with Nigeria. But this is a time that calls for diplomacy and not rabble-rousing. Rash reciprocity will yield no benefit except to create further hardship for ordinary travellers from both countries. We therefore urge the federal government to engage with their British counterparts constructively to correct what is clearly an ill-advised and wrong-headed measure.

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