Nigeria’s Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika says his country will ban flights from Canada, Britain, Argentina and Saudi Arabia this week in retaliation for Nigeria being added to those country’s “red lists” last month over the discovery of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
In recorded comments shared with media on Sunday (Dec. 12), Minister Sirika said he had recommended that Canada, alongside the three other countries, be placed on a COVID-19 "red list," which would, in turn, ban flights from operating, Reuters reports.
"We have given our input as aviation that it is not acceptable by us and we recommend that those countries, Canada, U.K., Saudi Arabia and Argentina be also put on red list, just like they did similarly to us," Sirika was quoted as saying.
“So, I am very sure between now and Monday or perhaps Tuesday maximum, all those countries will be put on the red list. Once they are on the red list, which means they are banned, their airlines will also be banned."
Canada, on Nov. 30, announced that Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt, would join seven other countries— South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini—that the Canadian government moved to restrict travellers from.
Ottawa’s policy bans the entry into Canada of all foreign nationals who travelled to these countries in the last 14 days.
Canadians and permanent residents have still been allowed to fly home, but are subject to enhanced pre-entry and arrival testing, screening, and quarantine measures.
Originally, returning travellers were required to obtain a negative COVID-19 test from a third country, which proved to be a near-impossible task for many.
Canada updates testing rule
However, on Sunday, the Government of Canada tweaked this rule, saying on its website that from Dec. 14 to Jan 7, 2022, all travellers on indirect flights from South Africa to Canada can use a test from an "accredited lab within South Africa" if it is done no more than 48 hours before departure.
The update comes after weeks of criticism from scientific and leadership communities around the world who called the third-country testing rule unfair.
Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Dec 5., said it was “dismaying” that some countries weren’t accepting negative COVID-19 tests from countries of origin.
In a public statement, Clayson Monyela, head of public diplomacy in South Africa’s international relations department, wanted to know why Canada “doubted our testing capacity” especially since it was South African scientists who detected the Omicron variant in the first place, the Globe and Mail reported.
Canada, of the Group of Seven countries, was the only country to impose a third-country testing rule for citizens returning from the restricted African countries.
(Japan, however, has a ban on all visitors until the end of this month).
Why has the Canadian government upheld strict rules on South African countries and not on others, such as the United Kingdom and Denmark, where community transmission of Omicron is also spiking?
Last week, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, in an interview on CBC, had this to say:
“…every day we're discussing it with our experts. And we will not hesitate to modify or change these measures as we learn more.”
On Friday (Dec. 3), the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA), the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), and other travel associations, called on government leaders to expedite the lifting of all country and region-specific travel bans.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has also previously advised against implementing travel restrictions to countries experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks.
“Travel bans to affected areas or denial of entry to passengers coming from affected areas are usually not effective in preventing the importation of cases but may have a significant economic and social impact,” WHO said in a statement in February of 2020.