The United Kingdom has made a U-turn on its initial action on banning Nigerians and non-UK citizens from travelling to the UK following a rise in the Omicron COVID-19 variant infection.
The move sparked outrage among Nigerians and affected countries. The United Nations also described the action as “travel apartheid.” The Nigerian government also threatened to retaliate, as it announced it would place a travel ban on the UK, Canada and other countries.
It is believed that the threats and public outrage may have played a part in the reversal. But the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Catriona Laing, says Nigeria was removed from the United Kingdom Travel Red List based on “Scientific and Public Health Data.”
The diplomat says, “we took this necessary precautionary action to give us time to understand the challenge we and others faced, and to slow down the spread of Omicron while scientists urgently assessed what impact the variant has on vaccines, treatments and transmissibility.
“When we announced the heightened restrictions, we made clear that we would remove them as soon as we could, and that is the decision Ministers have taken today. I know this will be welcome news for students, tourists, businesses and families in the United Kingdom and Nigeria, although I recognise the impact that these temporary health measures have had”, she said.
According to the health secretary at the UK parliament, Sajid Javid, the Omicron variant “has spread so widely across the world”; hence the travel red list is now “less effective”.
The travel red list
On December 5, the United Kingdom added Nigeria and ten other countries to the country’s travel red list.
The affected African countries were Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
According to Laing Catriona, the decision was to protect the citizens’ public health while the government studied the new variant. Despite the red list, she stated that the British government would work closely with the Nigerian government to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, the red list would be subjected to review on December 20.
The Nigerian government had described the action as unjust and discriminatory.
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