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High Testing Fee, Others Trail Resumption of International Flights

-By Adeniyi Onifade

The cost of Covid-19 testing, restriction of air traffic and ban of some airlines from entering Nigeria heralded the resumption of international flights in Nigeria.

The federal government had suspended International flights in March as part of measures to curtail the spread of Covid-19 pandemic.

Upon resumption of flights, some measures introduced by the government through the ministry of aviation raised eyebrows, as some of the measures did not go down well with returning passengers.

As part of measures put in place in line with global practices, the federal Government had first restricted traffic flow to four daily flights each at Lagos and Abuja airports.
Secondly, government revealed in its airline resumption protocol that it would fine $3,500 per passenger for failure to comply with the pre-boarding requirements.

They say although Nigerians aboard such aircraft would be allowed entry, the protocol stated that the would be subjected to a mandatory quarantine of eight to 14 days (depending on results of COVID-19 PCR test done from day seven of arrival) at a facility approved by government and at cost to the passenger which was estimated at about $2,500, the figure which has caused wide protest incoming passengers and industry players.

Hadi Sirika

The protocol said passengers, who test negative for COVID -19 after seven days, would observe self-isolation on the eighth day while travellers reporting or developing symptoms of COVID-19 on arrival, or during screening would not be allowed to self-quarantine and will be placed in institutional quarantine.

Hadi Sirika, aviation minister said that airlines that board passengers without a negative COVID- 19 PCR tests or test results of more than 96 hours prior to boarding would be sanctioned by refusing entry to non- Nigerians and returning them to the point of embarkation at cost to the Airlines.
It added that such passengers would proceed on a seven-day self-isolation, during which time they are to avoid physical interaction with friends, family, colleagues, and other members of the public.

It said the passengers “will present themselves at the sample collection centres on the seventh day of arrival for their samples to be taken and a COVID-19 PCR test done while approved private laboratories will be required to forward details of passengers who decline repeat PCR test by day 14 of arrival for sanctioning.”

The protocol warned that passengers, who violate these protocols, might be sanctioned with suspension of their passports or inclusion on a travel watchlist for six months and denied foreign travel for this period.

In the same vein, the protocol only allow for a maximum of 1280 passengers arriving at each of the Abuja and Lagos airports.
The 1280 passengers per airport benchmark by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 implies an average of four aircraft with each conveying 320 passengers.

A document, credited to the task force and stated that government should approve only four international air companies from different zones to fly into Nigeria, conveying not more than 1280 passengers daily.
Meanwhile, some major International airlines still remain banned from entering Nigeria as declared by the federal government.

Aviation minister, Sirika had stated Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, Etihad Airways, Angolan TAG, Air Namibia and Royal Air Maroc are not approved to operate flights into Nigeria tentatively.

Although the rationale for the ban was not clear immediately, it may not be unconnected to the principle of reciprocity being applied to some countries.

This is because, Sirika had suggested that Nigeria would go ahead and implement the principle of reciprocity to all countries that had banned flights from Nigeria.

Some of the countries which had banned flights from Nigeria are in the European Union as the EU included Nigeria on the banned countries in July this year when they opened their airspace.

Stakeholders however say there is a need to resolve the contending issues as soon as possible so that Nigerians in those countries as well as foreigners who want to do business in Nigeria can enter the country.