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COVID-19: FG May Ban UK, US Flights Next Week

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The National Assembly has hinted that a decision is in the pipeline that may result in the ban of flights from the UK and US into Nigeria as from next week.

This development was made known to newsmen on Monday by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Smart Adeyemi who added that relevant agencies are working out the details.

Naija News reports that fears of importing the new COVID-19 strain which has been discovered in the UK has forced many countries to ban flights to and fro the UK, however, Nigeria is yet to do same.

But a report monitored by our correspondent on Punch suggests the Nigerian government is now thinking of following in the footsteps of other countries that have taken similar action to ban flights from the UK and the US.

Naija News earlier reported that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has dismissed reports that the new mutant strain of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the UK has been found in Nigeria.

This was made known on Thursday by the Director-General of the NCDC, Dr Chikwe Iheakwazu, during the briefing on COVID-19 by the Presidential Taskforce (PTF) on the virus.

The NCDC DG advised Nigerians to stay calm and safe, stressing that viruses by their very nature mutate.

Iheakwazu said the NCDC, in collaboration with the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), did some sequencing but did not find the UK variant.

According to the NCDC boss, the COVID-19 variant found in the UK is deadlier than the original strain.

But Senator Adeyemi in his interview said a final decision on banning flights from the UK and the US will be announced by the government next week.

He said both the National Assembly and the federal government are concerned about the negative effects the new COVID-19 strain may have on the country in light of the second wave already being experienced.

He noted 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 and other related issues.

In his words, “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.”

Speaking on the development when contacted, the Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Aviation, James Oduadu, said the government is monitoring the situation and would always prioritize the health of the citizens but any issue of a possible flight ban will also factor in the 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.”

It will be recalled former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has urged the federal government to immediately ban flights between Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

Atiku noted in his statement that the action has become necessary in view of the health hazards that may result if the new coronavirus strain reported in the UK is imported into Nigeria.

Atiku said the government must take action immediately to avoid a repeat of what happened during the first wave of the COVID-19 virus when Nigeria failed to shut down its borders before the virus penetrated the country.

He warned that Nigeria’s health sector is not sufficiently prepared to handle the impact of another surge in pandemic hence the need to take preventive action before its too late.

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