COVID19 Headline News Nigeria Special Report

COVID-19 Omicron variant: Travel restrictions

With the recent discovery of another variant of the coronavirus, called the Omicron, some countries again have started imposing travel bans to cut down on the rate of transmission.

This development is threatening the air travel gradual recovery seen since the beginning of the lifting of the lockdown in 2020.

As the yuletide festivities are around the corner, what effect will this have on the movement of people this period?

The month of December, every year, is packed full of different activities because of the Christmas and new year holidays, and it is also an opportunity for people to travel domestically and internationally.

It is a period airlines and tour operators look forward to making more sales and recovering lost revenue of the previous months.

However, the emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has panicked many governments into imposing travel bans which the Director-General, World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, says could hamper the sector’s recovery.

“Blanket travel ban will not prevent the international spread of omicron and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Dr Ghebreyesus says.

Cecile Doumbe and Pelegie Egbane, both tour operators, say they have been recording cancelations of bookings since the omicron was announced.

“With the new Variant sales are low and really scared, countries have started shutting down again, we are having a lot of cancelations. We have to start thinking about a refund, contacting hotels, so whatever you thought you have earned, you have actually not earned it,” Mrs Doumbe says.

A tour consultant, Sharon Asuquo, and a travel coordinator, Bayo Adedeji, say since travel restrictions started outside of Africa, they have moved on to selling old and new destinations in the African continent.

Mrs Asukquo puts it this way: “We have the west Africa sales which is no visa, domestic internal, north Africa, east Africa and there is southern Africa. Our indices are showing that people are traveling more, as one country shuts down Nigerians are opening up new countries, yes, demand is coming down but capacity is also going up”.

President, National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Susan Akporiaye, and a travel and tourism ambassador, Ikechi Uko, say regardless of travel restrictions, Nigerians love traveling and would continue to travel.

“I don’t think it is going to affect our sales that much, the truth is that, the whole world is tired of the different stories” This is the initial crisis reaction and I think by next week things will settle but people will travel for Christmas. Even last year at the height of it, Christmas had a massive surge all over the world,” Mrs Akporiaye asserts.

Executive Director, Health Emergencies Programme, WHO, Michael Ryan, warned that health, rather than political principles, be the primary determinant in curtailing the spread of the virus.

Dr Ryan poses a number of rhetorical questions, while noting that there are also some inherent internal contradictions in these bans. “When you ban flights except for your citizens, is it that some passport holders will have the virus and some wouldn’t? Does the virus read your passports? Does the virus know your nationality or where you are legally resident?”.

In the meantime, the WHO has called on countries worldwide to adopt measures to De-risk travel with increased testing before departures and arrivals as well as quarantine until negative test, instead of a blanket ban.

Also read; COVID-19: The Omicron variant

Also read;COVID-19: UK adds Nigeria to red list

Writing by Nosa Aituamen; Editing by Tola Oguneye and Tony Okerafor