• UK, S’African passengers to get extra travel permits before boarding to Nigeria • NCAA rolls out conditions, $3,500 fine per defaulter • Stakeholders, IATA insist on on-arrival rapid testing at airports
Fresh hurdles now await international air travellers from the United Kingdom and South Africa as Federal Government’s preventive measures against new strain of COVID-19 take effect this morning.
By the new protocol, all inbound passengers are mandated to seek and get travel permit from Nigeria before boarding flights coming into the country.
To enforce the protocol more than ever before, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) will fine airlines $3,500 for each passenger and may be required to return non-Nigerian defaulting passengers to the point of embarkation for non-compliance.
Stakeholders, though received the new directive with mixed feelings, have urged the Federal Government to also intensify on-arrival rapid COVID-19 testing centres at ports of entry.
While several countries placed a ban on UK travellers over COVID-19 new strain recently detected, the British government has also banned travellers to the country from South Africa, having linked the new variant to the African country.
Nigeria readily has connections with the two countries. While British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic (VA) operate daily flights in and out of Nigeria, indigenous carrier, Air Peace airlines, now operate twice-weekly flights on Lagos-Johannesburg-Lagos route. The two channels have become a source of worry for the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19.
Sources at the Port Health Authority that have stations at international airports confirmed that the rate of compliance with COVID-19 guidelines for arriving passengers had been very low with many Nigerian passengers declining to pay N52, 000 for COVID test or present for such screening within seven days of arrival.
“The government is now taking extra measures to safeguard the country,” a director said.
In an All Operators’ Letter (AOL) issued by the NCAA, obtained by The Guardian yesterday, the apex regulatory body mandated that all indigenous and foreign operators flying into Nigeria must ensure United Kingdom and South Africa passengers present pre-departure permit (besides visa) to fly or quarantine code generated from Nigeria international travel portal and a documentary evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test result done within 96 hours of boarding.
The NCAA also stated that all the new travel rules would be applicable to both scheduled and non-scheduled passengers from both countries.
Director General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu, said with the recent spike in cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria and the reported transmissible new variant of the virus in the United Kingdom and South Africa, the Nigerian government through Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 reviewed the quarantine protocols.
“Passengers must now present the following two documents in order to be allowed to board their flights to Nigeria: (a) Pre-departure permit to fly/ QR code generated from the Nigeria International travel portal (https://nitp.ncdc.gov.ng) showing evidence of payment for the post arrival day-seven COVID-19 PCR test and (b) Documentary evidence of a Negative COVID-19 PCR result done within 96 hours (four days) of boarding from verifiable laboratory or health facility.
“On arrival in Nigeria, passengers will be received and processed separately by public health authorities. All passengers will be required to self-isolate for seven days after arrival followed by COVID-19 PCR test. Passengers with a post arrival Negative COVID-19 PCR result can exit self-isolation and further management.
“A dedicated register of arriving passengers from the United Kingdom and South Africa will be opened and enhanced for surveillance and active enforcement of these protocols,” the protocols stated in part.
On non-compliance, the NCAA stated that, “punitive measures shall be taken against airlines who fail to comply with this All Operators Letters. The punitive measures shall include but not limited to the following.
“Airlines shall be fined $3,500 for each defaulting passenger. Airlines may be required to return non-Nigerian defaulting passengers to the point of embarkation. Repeated non-compliance by any airline will lead to the suspension of the airline’s approval/permit to fly into the country.”
PTF National Coordinator, Dr. Sani Aliyu, had said that effective, Monday, December 28, 2020, all passengers coming into the country from the UK and South Africa on direct flights, must use the Nigerian International Travel Portal to register, fill in the health questionnaire and must upload a negative COVID-19 PCR result with a validity of not more than five days and must pay for a COVID PCR test at day seven of arrival in country without which they will not be allowed to board the flights.”
Aliyu said the country was concerned about the emergence of the new variant coronavirus in the UK and additional mutate that was described as coming from South Africa noted that Nigeria’s system for travels in terms of ensuring the safety of citizens and preventing the importation of cases is one of the strictest.
“If you do not present a travel permit, the airlines are being directed not to board you. So, if you are coming into Nigeria from the UK and South Africa, it is in your best interest to familiarise yourself with the Nigerian International Travel Portal.
“We had a lot of debates as to if we should institute mandatory quarantine when the people arrive. We have decided that when you arrive, we will open a special register for all passengers arriving from these two countries. We will have an enhanced surveillance where these passengers will be contacted after they have arrived home, we will be checking on them to see if they are having any symptoms,” Aliyu said.
TRAVEL specialist and Chairman of the Airlines Joint Passenger Committee of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), Bankole Bernard, said the extra measures were expected to check the lawlessness among the Nigerian elites and lapses in the preventive measures.
Bernard said despite the number of Nigerians killed by COVID-19, a lot of persons have still not learnt to abide by the protocols, “behaving as if they are immune from the virus”.
He urged the travellers to abide by the rules, even as the government begins to do more in terms of awareness and mandatory compliance to the safety rules.
Following warnings from the UK government that the new variant of the virus seemed to be spreading much faster than previous kinds, more than 40 countries have banned travel arrivals from the UK.
India, Pakistan, Russia, Jordan and Hong Kong joined European countries in suspending travel from Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman also closed their borders completely.
Aviation Security consultant, Group Captain John Ojikutu (rtd), said Nigeria had been on this path at the onset of the pandemic. “Often, we take a knee jerk or copycat approach without making an effort to take initiatives that are original to us. Why not behave the way the South Koreans and Chinese had done? Be original.
“We may restrict other nationals, but can we refuse our nationals from returning home especially during a national celebrating season as Christmas or any of the Eids? My suggestions modified from what I said earlier in March; redistribute all the foreign airlines to the four or five international airports and none of them must go to more than one in the four or five, except those from the same country like the BA and VA.
“We have about 30 foreign airlines coming to Nigeria, it therefore means each of the international airports would be having six foreign airlines flights. The aim is to be able to effectively and efficiently test, trace and track any infected passenger. Each airport must have testing centres and adequate skilled manpower in sufficient numbers to do the testing 24 hours at the airports for the arriving Nigerian nationals,” Ojikutu said.