•Insists vaccine inequality should be addressed
•Adds Nigeria has enough vaccine to cover 70% of population by Dec 2022
•Nigeria, South Africa should issue reciprocal travel restrictions on UK, others —Moghalu
•Ban on African countries unfair, discriminatory — Adesina
•US demands 24 hours COVID test from foreign travelers
•Omicron not as deadly as previous variants — Medical Guild
•NASS’ll insist on prudent use of COVID-19 funds – Senate President
•US demands 24hr negative COVID-19 result from foreign travellers
By Henry Umoru, Chioma Obinna, Omeiza Ajayi, Emmanuel Elebeke, Victoria Ojeme & Gabriel Olawale
THE Federal Government has described the British government’s decision to put Nigeria on the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 pandemic red list as unjust, unfair, punitive and discriminatory.
Government’s position came on a day President of African Development Bank, AfDB, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, said the travel ban on some African countries over Omicron, was also “very unfair, non-scientific and discriminatory.”
This is even as former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Professor Kingsley Moghalu, advised African countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, to issue reciprocal travel restrictions on the United Kingdom, and other Western nations that had placed Nigeria on red list due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Similarly, President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, Prof Cyril Usifoh, yesterday expressed concern over the continued ban of countries due to the Omicron variant, saying it would further widen the gap in COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria, aside from the economic implications that come with it.
However, Association of Lagos State Government Employed Medical Guild, allayed the fears of people over the Omicron variant, saying available data had so far shown that the new variant was not as deadly as previous variants.
US demands 24hr negative COVID-19 result from foreign travellers
Also, new rules requiring international air travellers arriving in the United States of America, USA, to obtain a negative Covid-19 test within one day of travel took effect from yesterday.
Under current rules, vaccinated international air travellers can present a negative test result obtained within three days of their day of departure. Unvaccinated travellers currently must get a negative Covid-19 test within one day of departure.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, Director Rochelle Walensky’s order says the agency “must take quick and targeted action to help curtail the introduction and spread of the Omicron variant into the United States.”
The CDC said beginning Monday “All air travelers, regardless of citizenship or vaccination status, will be required to show a negative pre-departure Covid-19 viral test taken the day before they board their flight to the United States.”
The tighter testing timeline “provides an added degree of public health protection as scientists continue to assess the Omicron variant,” the White House said in a fact sheet released Thursday.
The CDC order noted the Omicron variant has been found in 23 countries. The order didn’t require Covid-19 testing requirements for international travellers crossing U.S. land borders with Canada or Mexico.
CDC’s order said it “may exercise its enforcement discretion to adjust the scope of accepted pre-departure testing requirements to allow passengers and airline and aircraft operators greater flexibility regarding the requirements.”
The CDC is expected to give airlines a three-day grace period to allow for some travellers to return to the United States with tests taken outside of the one-day window, sources told Reuters.
On Monday, the White House said it would bar nearly all foreign nationals from entering the United States from eight southern African countries over fears of the spread of the Omicron variant but has not extended those travel restrictions to other countries where the new variant has been discovered.
The US top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said, Wednesday he viewed the restrictions on the eight countries as a “temporary measure.”
White House spokeswoman, Jen Psaki said Thursday she would not “expect the lifting of restrictions before we know more about the variant. We will continue to evaluate if additional restrictions need to be put in place.”
Uk’s decision unfair
Briefing journalists in Abuja yesterday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the decision of the British government was not driven by science but by indefensible judgment and urged it to rescind immediately the action.
Britain has now joined other countries, including Canada, which had earlier taken a similar action against Nigeria over Omicron. The Minister said: ‘‘How do you slam this kind of discriminatory action on a country of 200 million people just because of less than two dozen cases? Whereas British citizens and residents are allowed to come in from Nigeria, non-residents from the same country are banned.
‘‘The two groups are coming from the same country, but being subjected to different conditions. Why won’t Britain allow people in both categories to come in, and be subjected to the same conditions of testing and quarantine?
”This is why this decision to ban travellers from Nigeria, who are neither citizens nor residents, is grossly discriminatory and punitive.’’
Mohammed, who described the ban as a knee-jerk reaction, maintained that the decision, if not rescinded, could only be detrimental to Nigeria’s quest to conclusively tackle the pandemic.
‘‘This type of ban slammed on some African countries is a knee-jerk reaction that can only be detrimental to our quest to most conclusively tackle this pandemic.
”Instead of these reflex responses that are driven by fear rather than science, why can’t the world take a serious look at the issue of access to vaccines, and ensure that it is based on the principles grounded in the right of every human to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, political belief, economic or any other social condition?
‘‘Many developed countries have used the advantage of their enormous resources or relationship to sign agreements with manufacturers to supply their countries with vaccines ahead of making them available for use by other countries. ”Even before the clinical trials were completed, millions of doses of the most promising vaccines have been bought by Britain, US, Japan and the EU.
‘‘Some of these countries bought doses five times the size of their population, while others, mostly in Africa, have little or no access to vaccines. This is the real issue to address, instead of choosing the easy path of travel bans, which the UN Secretary General called travel apartheid, let the world know that no one is safe until everyone is safe.
‘‘In the wake of the discovery of Omicron, the Presidential Steering Committee, PSC, has reviewed its International Travel Protocol. The revised protocol, which came into effect yesterday (Dec. 5, 2021), is aimed at further reducing the risk of importation and exportation of COVID-19, especially the variants of concern.
”Under the revised protocol, passengers arriving in Nigeria are expected to provide evidence of and comply with the rules,” he said.
The Minister, who posited that Nigeria does not belong to any country’s red list, called on the British government to immediately review the decision that put Nigeria on its red list.
He also noted that Nigeria had handled the COVID-19 pandemic with utmost responsibility and based on science, and had rightly earned global accolades for its efforts.
Ban on African countries unfair, discriminatory — Adesina
Also yesterday, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, the President African Development Bank, AfDB, said the travel ban on some African countries over Omicron was “very unfair, non-scientific and discriminatory.”
Adesina, who said this through his verified twitter handle @akinadesina, urged western countries to lift the travel ban on African countries.
He queried why travel ban was not placed on non-African countries where Omicron had also been found.
” Why single out African countries? Singling out African countries is very unfair, nonscientific and discriminatory.
“Global vaccines and travel apartheid against Africa are endangering lives, hurting economies, lives, jobs and livelihoods from a pandemic Africa did not cause. End the apartheid. Respect Africa,” Adesina said.
Nigeria, South Africa should issue reciprocal travel restrictions on UK, others —Moghalu
Speaking on the issue, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Professor Kingsley Moghalu, advised African countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, to issue reciprocal travel restrictions on the United Kingdom, and other Western nations that have placed Nigeria on red list due to the Omicron COVID-19 variant.
Moghalu wrote: “Nigeria and other African countries such as South Africa should issue reciprocal restrictions or bans on any Western countries that restrict or ban travel by Africans because of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.
“It’s unconscionable to subject Africans to restrictions because of a variant that did not originate from the continent when Western countries with similar or more cases are not subject to similar restrictions.
“This is more than public health. It’s about worldviews in international relations. Our dignity matters. Our leaders should protect it instead of as is the case with Nigeria today, travelling around the world with a begging bowl for foreign assistance.”
PSN president expresses worry over implication on COVID-19 vaccination
In a similar development, President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, PSN, Prof Cyril Usifoh has expressed concern over continuing ban of countries due to the COVID-19 Omicron variant, saying apart from the economic implications, it will further widen the gap in COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria.
In a chat with Vanguard, the PSN president said the travel ban on Nigeria would definitely promote vaccine hesitancy. Citing the United Kingdom’s travel ban restrictions, he said: “If those who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccines can be quarantined, the unvaccinated Nigerians would see no real need in getting vaccinated.
He said: “So, we really need to be careful here in order to balance the pros and cons, while still allowing researchers to unravel the nature and possible leeway for Omicron strain and, indeed, COVID-19.
“Basically, the UK’s action against Nigeria requires more or less a political and diplomatic reaction. This is a call on the FG to rely on the strength of its bilateral ties with her former colonial masters to rescue Nigeria from the list.
“While arguing the correctness of the decision vis-a-vis international migration laws and human rights, one also has to view it from the UK’s position of trying to be responsive to her citizens’ and residents’ public health well-being. Some African countries, including Nigeria, on the list have come out strongly to condemn the policy, calling it unnecessary and demeaning.
“Conversely, the UK may now be viewed in another perspective because when a particular strain of COVID-19 emanated from there (UK), these countries now on her red list, never placed any travel ban on UK. This is a huge question mark on UK (I would not be in a haste to mention racial profiling) Economically, the policy harms the aviation industry and other sectors of the transport segment.”
COVID-19: Omicron not as deadly as previous variants— Medical Guild
However, allaying the fears of people of the Omicron variant yesterday, the Association of Lagos State Government Employed, Medical Guild, said available data had shown that the new variant was not as deadly as previous variants.
Speaking during the association’s 2021 Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference which will run from 5th to 10th of December, 2021, chairman of Medical Guild, Dr. Oluwajimi Sodipo, said virus mutation was not new but noted that the challenge most times, rested on whether the protective measure adopted earlier against previous variants would work or not.
“People tend to also worry whether the available vaccines will be suitable for the new variant and how violent the new variant will be. There are still a lot of data coming up as regard Omicron variants but for now, some of the studies from different part of the world have shown that there is some level of protection by the available vaccines against the new variant. The positive news is that the Omicron variant is not as deadly as some of the previous variants we see in terms of death and morbidity,” he said.
Nigeria has enough vaccine to cover 70% of population by Dec 2022
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has boasted that Nigeria has COVID-19 vaccines to cover over 70 percent of her population by December 2022.
Chairman, Presidential Steering Committee, PSC, on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Mr Boss Mustapha, disclosed, yesterday, in Abuja at the opening of a two-day national summit on the pandemic.
Speaking at the event, Mustapha said Nigeria was now in the era of vaccines and Non-Pharmaceutical Intervention, NPI, measures.
“We need to encourage all eligible persons to get vaccinated and keep observing the washing of hands, wearing of face masks, keep physical distance and avoid crowded areas. Nigeria has invested in enough vaccines that can cover over 70% of our population before the end of 2022. These vaccines are safe and efficacious, hence it is better and safer to be vaccinated against this virus, now,” he stated.
The National COVID-19 Summit aims at bringing all stakeholders together to discuss the Theme: “Pushing Through the Last Mile to End the Pandemic and Build Back Better.”
Mustapha said it will create the opportunity to identify successes, gaps and lessons learnt so far in Nigeria’s National Response to COVID-19 from March 2020 till date “in the bid to develop strategies to actualize the international commitments towards ending COVID-19 before the end of Year 2022”.
According to him, Nigeria’s COVID-19 response has been driven by science, data and experience till date.
He said: “The National Response has been driven by a multi-sectoral process which facilitated expansive and in-depth consideration of issues as well as speedy decision making. The process enjoyed the overwhelming support of the partners from the private sector and the international community. ”Through these partners, Nigeria was able to put in place critical infrastructure nationwide, procure scarce medical equipment, test kits, and personal protective materials, etc.
“Today, we are here to assess the level of impact of our national response and develop strategies as we push through the last mile to end the pandemic, while we build back better. There is no gainsaying that the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, which was triggered when the index case was confirmed on February 27, 2020, precipitated significant disruptions to the healthcare system and socio-economic lives of Nigerians.
NASS’ll insist on prudent use of COVID-19 funds — Senate President
Similarly, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan said, yesterday, that the National Assembly will provide resources in 2022 budget for the battle against COVID-19 pandemic but will insist on prudence in the use of the funds. Lawan spoke in Abuja while declaring open the National Summit on COVID-19 Pandemic.
The Senate President told the participants at the summit that “in the 2022 appropriation, whatever is necessary will be provided for Nigeria to continue to fight the pandemic and beyond it.
“But there is a caveat: those who will be given those funds need to provide the kind of prudence that is necessary – the economy, the efficiency in the deployment and application of those resources.
“I will urge our Committees who have been working very hard and very closely with the PSC to ensure very strict and rigorous scrutiny and oversight of our funds in 2022 when we are able to provide them to the Federal Ministry of Health and its agencies.”
Lawan assured Nigerians that “members of the National Assembly and other political leaders of this country take the health of Nigerians very seriously and we will continue to be alive to our responsibility to ensure that our citizens are protected and are provided that kind of opportunity to take the vaccine.”
The Senate President also urged the relevant health authorities to do more to ensure that vaccine hesitancy was minimised or eliminated, if possible.
Speaking further, Lawan said: “The 9th National Assembly, under my leadership, has equally played critical role in supporting the Executive Arm of Government to respond frontally through the passage of the Quarantine Act 2020 in order to mitigate the effects of COVID – 19 on our citizens and the economy. “The Act provided and regulated the imposition of quarantine and made other provisions for preventing the introduction, spread and transmission of dangerous infectious diseases in Nigeria.
“The NASS proactively reviewed the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, and the 2020 national budget in order to sufficiently fund the national response to the pandemic and to provide economic stimulus packages for Nigerians.”
“In addition, after meticulous scrutiny, the Assembly gave approvals for various loans requested by the Executive to fund the 2020 national budget.
“Members of the Senate gave up 50 percent of their monthly salaries to provide relief materials for Nigerians to cushion the effect of the pandemic while some distinguished members of the Assembly procured and distributed various COVID – 19 relief materials to their constituencies.
“The oversight functions of the Assembly necessitated the proper scrutiny of how the aforementioned funds were expended and also monitored strict compliance with resolutions concerning the fair and equitable distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable.
“The Executive was engaged on the implementation of the Social Intervention Programme (SIP) in response to the needs of the citizenry.”
“The emergence of the Omicron variant of the virus points to the fact that the pandemic is yet to be over, hence, we should not rest on our oars in fighting the pandemic.
“However, our recent experience has also shown that outbreak of diseases affects not only the health sector but also the social – economic sector of the nation.
“To this end, there is need for a continuous multi-sectoral approach that integrates multiple work plan and collaboration to establish a sustainable bio security framework for Nigeria.’’