Controversy over COVID-19 testing protocols between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates has resulted in both countries slamming suspensions on each other. But while Nigeria has withdrawn its suspension, the Emiratis won’t do same at least until March 10, Daily Trust reports.
Differing COVID-19 travel protocols between Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have forced the UAE government to suspend flights from Nigeria until March 10, Daily Trust can report.
This followed the rejection of the rapid antigen test (RDT) by the Federal Government of Nigeria upon which Emirates Airlines was suspended.
Daily Trust reports that while the Federal Government, through the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, specified negative PCR test as a requirement for all inbound and outbound travellers, Emirates Airlines introduced the RDT test, which passengers were subjected to before they can board Emirates flights from Lagos and Abuja to Dubai.
However, the Federal Government frowned at this and warned the airline, through the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), to immediately withdraw the antigen test.
Emirates would not budge and were slammed with a suspension by the NCAA in compliance with the directive of the PTF.
The ban, the NCAA said, was necessitated by the continued airlift of passengers from Nigeria using the Rapid Antigen Tests (RDT) conducted by laboratories that are “neither approved nor authorized by the appropriate regulators.”
This, according to the aviation regulatory authority, is in flagrant violation of the directive by the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
“This is a violation of paragraph 5 of the NCAA letter with REF: NCAA/DG/AIR11/16/281 of 02 February 2021 addressed to your good self,” the Director-General of NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu said in a letter to the airline.
“The paragraph clearly states: ‘Based on the forgoing and to enable the Nigerian government to put in place the needed infrastructure and logistics for COVID-19 RDT testing for departing passengers, the PTF has directed that Emirates Airlines should either accept passengers without RDT pending when the infrastructure and logistics are put in place or suspend its flights to and from Nigeria until such a time when the required infrastructure and logistics are fully established and implemented,” he said.
Though the ban was lifted the following day after Emirates announced the withdrawal of the antigen test, the airline afterwards suspended all Nigerian flights and only allows flights from Dubai to Nigeria.
The suspension also affected the Sharjah-Dubai flights operated by Nigerian carrier, Air Peace, as well as any other flight conveying Nigerians to Dubai.
Air Peace in a statement confirmed the development, indicating that the UAE Government has stopped the airlifting of Nigerians from Nigeria to the UAE as part of its COVID-19 measures.
“However, flights bringing Nigerians back from UAE are not affected. To this end, Air Peace flights from UAE (Sharjah-Dubai) to Lagos are not affected. Normal flights shall resume when the restriction is lifted from February 28, 2021,” Air Peace announced.
Also, Egypt Air made a similar announcement to inform its trade partners and passengers of the development.
However, the UAE government has extended the suspension of Nigerian flights from the initial February 28 to March 10.
“In line with government directives, passenger services from Nigeria (Lagos and Abuja) to Dubai are temporarily suspended until 10 March 2021,” Emirates Airlines said in an updated travel protocol on Nigerian flights.
Rapid antigen test
A source privy to the development in a chat with our correspondent said, “The UAE believes the introduction of the rapid antigen test is the only measure to guide against having a COVID-19 carrier on board since there have been several cases of fakery of the test result.
“But this was however being done using unapproved laboratories, which was why the PTF had to warn the airline through the NCAA to stop the antigen test as a requirement. The PTF had to wield the big stick after the airline ignored the warning,” he said.
It was however learnt that the UAE would review the ban only on March 10 and it could be further extended if the government is not satisfied with the COVID-19 situation in Nigeria.
Speaking with Daily Trust, aviation analyst, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd) said he would not blame the UAE government for refusing to compromise on its national public health measure.
“If I understand what the UAE has said to mean don’t bring passengers from your country but you can come and take your nationals from here. I find that situation to be similar to what happened at the height of the pandemic about this time last year when states go to countries where their nationals were stranded to evacuate them. “The reason, I suppose is that it could be costing the UAE a lot more on testing, tracing or tracking and treating nationals of other countries visiting or transiting the country than their own citizens; that does not make any economic sense to a responsible nation.
“Check the population of the UAE and the passenger traffic and compare with ours; compare also our efforts in the fight against the pandemic to that of the UAE, you’ll understand where the fear of the UAE is coming from.”
Also speaking, a member of the Aviation Roundtable and Safety Initiative, Mr. Olumide Ohunayo said Emirates was caught between making profit and implementing the national health protocols against COVID-19.
He noted that apart from Emirates, other airlines have also been coming up with different protocols as approved by their respective counties.
Ohunayo, who is a Director of Research at Zenith Travel, asked the Federal Government to be more firm in dealing with laboratories where fake COVID-19 tests are detected and also prosecute the perpetrators.
He said, “What they (Emirates) have now is between making profit and meeting the national health protocol of Dubai. That is the case before us. The Emirati are insisting that after the PCR test, passengers should do the antigen test at the airport.
“Some other airlines are also doing it but at the point of arrival in their country but Emirates is saying you should do it at the point of departure but the government is saying as at today, we don’t have such infrastructure in place. What we agreed for our passengers is the PCR test. Any other test outside the one approved by the government will not stand and that is the point.”
President of the National Association of Nigerian Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mrs Susan Akporiaye, however, queried the rationale behind UAE’s action, tasking the Federal Government to do everything necessary to resolve the issue.
She also noted that the Federal Government has been too silent on the development.
On the allegation of faking COVID-19 tests, she said, “The UAE should not tell us that because if that was the issue, the UK should have also banned us. We are going to all other places, we are going to Turkey, we are going to Italy, we are going to Canada, all other places apart from there.
“We all kick against the faking of COVID-19 test results as travel agents and we won’t get involved in things that would affect the industry. Other countries are doing it (producing fake test results). It is because of this that the UK government put 33 countries on a watch list and gave them conditions. But Nigeria was not there. So the UAE should not tell us it is because of fake COVID-19 tests that they are banning us.”