The UK High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, has defended the travel ban on Nigeria following the detection of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, insisting that the move was based on science and not discriminatory.
“I think I can say comfortably, it is not [discriminatory]. When the UK was the epicentre of the Alpha variant, we took some very tough measures ourselves to essentially cut ourselves off and we banned all but essential travels from the UK. So, that was a very tough decision for us,” the envoy told Channels Television in an interview.
“The UK has been red-listed in earlier stages of these variants; I think when [the] Delta variant took off, we were red-listed by Austria and by France and Turkey. We have not just red-listed, in the first, African countries. So, Pakistan was red-listed, Turkey was red-listed by the UK when we had our previous red-list. So, it is based on an individual deep-diving assessment of each country.”
According to her, the British Government is aware of the reactions and condemnation from across the world following the move but maintained that the development will not push them to reverse the ban.
“The reactions have been loud and clear but I don’t want to suggest to anybody that that would change the basis of the decision because that health basis has to be the basis on which the decision has to be made,” she added.
A ‘Hasty’ Decision
Liang’s remark, coming barely a week since the UK slammed the ban on Nigeria, contrasts the Federal Government and National Assembly’s position on the matter.
Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammed, had in the wake of the ban described it as discriminatory, calling on the UK government to rescind the decision.
The minister, who listed efforts by the Nigerian government to curb the spread of the disease including mass vaccination, made the remark hours after his health counterpart, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, faulted the move.
Ehanire told Channels Television’s Sunday Politics that the UK’s decision was hasty, explaining that little is known about the new COVID-19 variant.
“We were not very happy when six countries in Sub-Saharan Africa were placed on a red list and the WHO also advised against putting each other on the red list,” he said.
“From what we know about the COVID-19, there are many ways to manage it, and besides, not much is still known about the Omicron variant. We know, for example, that there have been no fatalities.
“There have also been no reports of very severe illness. Actually, the rationale for being so hasty in putting countries on the red list is not something that is very helpful.”