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COVID-19: First batch of stranded Nigerians abroad returns, from Dubai

The first set of stranded Nigerians being evacuated back to the country as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), arrives today Monday from Dubai, the United Arab Emirates.

And to ensure that the returnee Nigerians don’t bring more cases of COVID-19, they won’t be coming back to the warmth embrace of their family members but would be houses in quarantine centres approved by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Health.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, confirmed in Abuja on Tuesday that Nigerians in Dubai, who were meant to be evacuated last week, will arrive the country on Monday May 4, 2020.

Though he could not confirm on whether they would land in Abuja or Lagos, the Minister said that the evacuees would pay for the cost of their quarantine.

Official statistics show that the prospective returnees are scattered in 75 countries including United Kingdom (466); United Arab Emirates (253); China (229); U.S. (163); Turkey (160); Egypt (115); India (92); Malaysia (84) and Cyprus (72).

Others are in Indonesia (35); Cameroon (20); Germany (10); Italy (eight); Australia (six); France (three); Jordan (13); Ghana (32); Ukraine (15); Saudi Arabia (35); South Africa (39); Sudan (18); Pakistan (14); Oman (five); Philippines (three); Poland (three) and Qatar (four).

Onyeama blamed the delay on the commencement of the evacuation on the attitude of hotels in Lagos and Abuja who prefer being empty than to be used as quarantine centres for Nigerian returning from overseas.

He noted that the challenges that have made the process difficult is finding quarantine centres approved by medical authorities where the evacuees would be monitored.

According to the Minister, “we did not want a situation where people from outside coming in bring more positive cases and exacerbate what is already becoming the big challenge here. Most of the hotels do not want to get into a situation of being used as quarantine centres, notwithstanding the fact that they are all empty. But they, for some reason, seem to prefer to remain empty than to be places of quarantine.”

He said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Lagos State government have been trying to find hotels to volunteer to accommodate those coming into Lagos.

“They (Lagos state government) have also been facing the same major challenge in Lagos of finding people who, I mean, it’s all private enterprises willing to give up their hotels for this purpose. We have been able now to identify some hotels here in Abuja and also in Lagos.”

Onyeama regretted the stringent conditions the hotels who offered to host the returnees are putting, saying that they all want to be paid in advance. 

“These hotels want to be paid way in advance. Arrangement is that the passengers (Nigerian evacuees) will have to pay for them, and so that mechanism is something that we’ll have to work out,” he added.

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