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COVID-19: FG withholding passports of returnee Nigerians

As Nigerians stranded in different foreign countries arrive in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Federal Government will keep their passports and places them under surveillance for one week, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.

This is contained in the guidelines for the repatriation of Nigerians issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the nation’s missions and embassies abroad.

The document dated May 1, 2020, was signed by the acting Director, European Affairs Division, Mr George Edokpa.

The first batch of 264 returnees from Dubai, UAE, landed in Lagos on Wednesday and the returnees were immediately quarantined and their passports temporarily seized.

It guidelines read, “The returnees must be in recommended apparel, long sleeve tops and full-length trousers or ankle-length skirts for females and long-sleeve shirts and full-length trousers for males.

“Returnees must ensure they keep their face masks in place for the duration of the flight except during meals after which they must put the face mask back on. Returnees are expected to fill the self-reporting/health assessment forms while onboard.”

On arrival, the guidelines stated that the passengers’ international passports would be collected for special Nigeria Immigration Service clearance during the period of quarantine after which they would be required by the service to present themselves for necessary clearance.

“Returnees are to be tested during the period of quarantine and on the 14th day of the quarantine, a positive test would necessitate their transfer to an isolation/treatment facility.

“At the end of the quarantine period, evacuees can go home but they will be followed by the surveillance team for another seven days.”

An official explained that the returning Nigerians were not tested for coronavirus ahead of their repatriation because they could be re-infected during the flight.

The MFA spokesman, Ferdinand Nwonye, could not be reached for comment on Friday. He had yet to respond to calls and an SMS as of the time of filing this report.

The MFA spokesman confirmed that those returning from the US were not tested for COVID-19.

“The Consulate-General in New York told me those coming from the US were not tested because the guidelines he received said their temperature should only be taken,” he stated.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, has apologised to Nigerians that returned from the United Kingdom for spending three hours in a plane at the Lagos airport on Friday.

He said the delay was caused by the refusal of the British Airways crew to fly them to Abuja because the British nationals they were billed to fly back to Heathrow Airport were in Lagos.

About 255 Nigerians, who were flown into Lagos from London on account of the COVID-19, were reportedly kept inside the plane for a long time, leading to protests by the evacuees.

Commenting on the incident on Friday during a briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 in Abuja, the minister said, “The challenge we had with the flight is that we had wanted it to come directly to Abuja because that is where the passengers are supposed to be quarantined, but the British (Airways) insisted that the people they wanted to take back to the UK were in Lagos and for them to fly down to Abuja would exceed the balance for the pilot and so this put us in a very awkward position. This (evacuation) involved a lot of coordination; unfortunately, we didn’t get it right.

“This is a most regrettable situation and we apologise wholeheartedly to those passengers. The latest report I heard from Lagos is that they eventually came to Abuja where they would now be quarantined.

Responding to a question about Nigerians stranded in France, the minister affirmed that they could fly to Cotonou, Benin Republic and return home through the land borders.

Copyright PUNCH.

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