The Federal Government says Nigerians stranded abroad because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic who are to be evacuated back to the country must conform to new protocols including signing undertaking to abide by all the rules and submitting their passports on arrival to the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS).
Coordinator, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said on Monday that part of the new protocols requires the evacuees to undergo Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) Testing within 14 days of their travel date.
In addition, they are required to, prior to boarding, sign an undertaking to make themselves available for a repeat PCR test within 72 hours of arrival, to stay in their city of arrival (Abuja or Lagos) for a period of 14 days and in self-isolation and at their own cost.
They are also to be subject to supervision by health authorities during the isolation, whether at home or medical facility.
The federal government had on May 27th suspended all evacuations of Nigerians stranded abroad over the COVID-19 pandemic, pending when new protocols on testing will be in place.
It also insisted that the mandatory supervised isolation of persons arriving outside the country would continue to be for 14 days until a new policy comes into place.
Dr Sani said that “we are working hard to ensure we get it right and also make best use of resources available to us so that the 4,000 Nigerians who want to return home can do so.”
He noted that the feeding and accommodation of returnees in isolation can no longer be sustained by the government.
According to him: “Previous 14-day isolation at government-selected hotels will now be implemented as self-isolation at home or any other place selected by passengers, but within city of arrival. In that period you will not be expected to go out or receive visitors.”
The PTF National Coordinator said Nigerian Missions abroad will coordinate and provide clearance for the evacuation.
He said emphasis on those to be evacuated would be on people in challenging circumstances, short term visitors, those on medical and official trips, family holidays, pregnant women, the elderly and students.
Aliyu said: “We know that the initial stage of responding, accommodation and transport was not sustainable. It is not sustainable keeping people in hotels for 14 days and paying for their feeding, paying for their transport and pandemic we are running a pandemic? Meanwhile you know you do not have the resources. You know that even in developed countries like the United Kingdom, if you have a home address, they will take your pictures and they will ask you to self-isolate at home. And if you don’t self-isolation at home and your neigbour finds out, he has the responsibility to alert the authorities and you will be fined a thousand pounds.
“So, why can’t we trust our own countrymen to do the right thing” Why can’t we help them to get into the country and make sure we are able to clear huge backlog of people in a sustainable manner. That is what we want to do with the current protocol. We know that we are reducing the risk by asking the people to take a test before they come in. So, right from the beginning, the pre-test probability of having a positive COVID result by the time they arrive Nigeria is low because they have already been tested prior to that. In fact, the risk of getting COVID is much more lower than the risk of someone in Nigeria who has come in contact with a positive case what we call the primary contacts.
“So, the primary contacts we have are we taking them to hotels and locking them up? We are not. So why should we be putting resources into so much people with lower risks of transmission.
Second thing is that we are asking them to take the tests again just in case they are in their incubator period and we missed it. But that test, as you know, it’s not possible to test hundreds of people at the same time. You are taking their details before you take a swap, it will take a while before you finish with one person, say, 10, 15 minutes.
“Meanwhile, if you have 500 people landing how long will it take, three days? Will you not come out of the airport? No. So the only option we have is to convince those that really want to come in, to sign an undertaking and work with us. The only bloc that was reducing the number of people coming in was the issue of accommodation and we will take that out. We will ask those that want to come in to make sure they have arrangements for accommodation in the points of entry, which is Abuja and Lagos for now.
“That might change as things proceed but for the moment, all the flights will come into Abuja and we will ask them to give us a time to do the test on them. They need to arrange accommodation in Lagos and Abuja and self-isolate until we are able to take their swap and we will monitor them.”
“Our preference is for them to stay in Lagos and Abuja for few days to self-isolate for 14 days so that we can follow them up if they have symptoms they can call us and we can isolate them for treatment if indeed they develop infection. This is a pragmatic approach. “
Dr Aliyu also urged those who returned from the US and UK yet to pick up their passports to do so.
Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika assured travelers that civil aviation would be very safe when the industry resumes full operations.
He said: “We know COVID-19, unlike terrorists, and we are prepared for them. Certainly, air travels will not be the way it used to be, so travelers must prepare for the changes that may occur.”