The Nigerian government has said it is not considering the imposition of travel restrictions despite the growing threat of Omicron, a recently discovered COVID-19 variant.
The government’s position was stated by the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, on Sunday night.
After the discovery of the new variant in late November, the European Union and countries in the Americas and Asia announced flight restrictions to many African countries, including Nigeria.
The flight restrictions have, however, been condemned by many experts including the World Health Organisation as being discriminatory. The experts say that although the Omicron variant was first isolated in South Africa, it had been detected in other non-African countries.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced three cases of Omicron in the country on Wednesday, saying they were detected in recent travellers to South Africa.
Speaking on this development on Wednesday night, on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ programme, Mr Ehanire said the imposition of the travel ban is not being considered by the Nigerian government yet.
He said it would be wrong to describe the Omicron variant as deadly, for now.
“Up till now, it cannot be classified as deadly because of zero fatalities…no severe illness has been reported as about 246 (cases) have been identified. I think about 86 In the last 24 hours but have not reported any fatalities or any severe illness, not to my knowledge,” the minister said.
“And of course, not rushing into judgment. And we’re also not applauding any lockdowns or any prohibition, banning of flights or movement of people until we know more.
“We believe that the harm it will do to livelihoods and to plants and to economists might be more than the pursuit value that might be derived from shutting down the movement between countries,” he said.
Mr Ehanire said Nigeria had, as of the time of the interview, recorded only six cases of the Omicron virus while over 300 persons have been identified as carriers in South Africa.
The minister said about seven per cent of Nigeria’s over 250 million population have taken their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
He said the government was committed to vaccinating 70 per cent of its eligible population.
Mr Ehanire admitted that some people were using fake COVID-19 test results in the country but identified it as a global problem; saying travellers from other countries, including the UK, have been caught with fake COVID-19 test results.
With the spread of the coronavirus and its variants, Mr Ehanire said, Nigeria now requires travellers to the country to undergo the COVID-19 test maximum of 14 hours before the departure to Nigeria.
The minister urged Nigerians to continue to take COVID-19 protocols including the use of face masks and social distancing, including during the festive season.
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