UAE concedes 7 flight slots to Nigeria
The United Kingdom (UK) government yesterday removed Nigeria and 10 other African countries from the controversial red list under which it banned flights from African countries, following the outbreak of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 in South Africa.
This is even as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has conceded seven slots to Air Peace to end the diplomatic row with Nigeria.
According to a statement issued yesterday by the British High Commission in Abuja this decision followed the review of the latest risk assessment from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), stressing that Nigeria and the other 10 countries and territories on the red list will be removed from 4am Wednesday 15 December.
The statement said that “all passengers arriving from Nigeria, Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe will not have to stay in a managed quarantine hotel on arrival in England from this date.
The UK said further that while all countries have now been removed from the red list, the managed quarantine hotel policy remains in place to act as a crucial line of defence against the importation of variants of concern.
It was earlier reported that the red list was to be rescinded just two weeks after it was introduced, following intense pressures from Nigerian travelers and the Nigerian government, which threatened retaliation.
The UK government added Nigeria to the travel red list from Monday December 6, noting that people traveling to the UK from any country will need to take a pre-departure test from December
The red list was greeted with severe protests from officials in Nigeria and other affected African countries, as travelers in quarantine complained of six-hour journeys to hotels and “grim” food.
The red list forced thousands into hotel quarantine at a cost of £2,285 per person for 10 days.
Bowing to pressure, the British government noted in a statement: “All vaccinated passengers arriving in the UK must continue to take a pre-departure test two days or less before they depart for the UK and must take a PCR test on or before day 2 and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
“These testing measures are vital in helping to prevent any additional cases of Omicron from entering the UK and stopping people from passing it on to others.”
It said that as Omicron cases rise in the UK and in countries around the world, the travel red list is less effective in slowing the incursion of the variant from abroad and these temporary measures are no longer proportionate.
It noted that the red list has successfully served its purpose in delaying the spread of Omicron into the UK to buy time for scientists to learn more about this variant.
“This is a critical phase in tackling the Omicron and the Government’s focus remains on slowing the spread of the variant in the UK – through maintaining testing requirements at the border, through the introduction of Plan B measures, and by turbocharging the booster rollout.
“On Tuesday 14th December, UK Ministers made the decision – based on scientific and public health data – to remove Nigeria from the UK’s travel red list. The emergence of the Omicron variant is a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, and like all countries around the world the UK has had to take difficult decisions to protect public health.
“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 UK and Nigeria, although I recognise the impact that these temporary health measures have had,” the statement added.
UK Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, also said, “The red list bought our scientists time to learn more about Omicron and to slow the seeding of the variant from abroad into the UK. Now that there are high levels of community transmission, it is right to remove the red list and focus on our national effort to tackle Omicron.
“With cases doubling every two to three days we’ve turbocharged our booster programme, we’re asking arrivals to keep testing to limit the spread of new cases, and we are introducing Plan B measures to protect the country from the threat of this new variant.”
Javid however warned that “restrictions will be re-imposed should there be a need to do so to protect public health”.
He said also that airlines will continue to check all passengers for pre-departure tests alongside their completed Passenger Locator Form, even as passengers will not be allowed to board a flight without providing evidence of a negative test result.
“The government will take further action if necessary to contain the virus and the new variant, as has been the case throughout the pandemic. The UKHSA continues to monitor the situation closely, in partnership with scientific and public health organisations across the world, and the government is working collaboratively with the World Health Organisation and countries around the world to better understand the new variant,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has conceded seven slots to Air Peace to end the diplomatic row with Nigeria.
This was after the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) withdrew the ministerial approval granted Emirates Airlines by the Ministry of Aviation over reduction of Air Peace slot to Sharjah Airport.
It was also gathered that the UAE’s Authority granted the Nigerian carrier the permit to fly directly to Dubai instead of Sharjah Airport, it was learnt.
The General Civil Aviation Authority, it was learnt, sent a December 13, 2021 letter to Air Peace, though the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs was not copied in breach of protocol.
The federal government was however said to have received the letter.
In a letter obtained yesterday with reference number DCAA/ASA/N-3/014 and addressed to the chairman, Air Peace, Allen Onyema, the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority (DCAA), the authority said slots have been provided for Air Peace at Dubai Airport.
The letter signed by the director general of DCAA, Mohammed Ahii, said relationship between the two countries have gone a long way and cannot be allowed to go sour.
The DCAA said that the slots cannot be provided indefinitely and urged them to respond to the offer on or before Thursday December 20, 2021.
The letter reads: “We write in reference to Air Peace’s possible/intended operations to/from Dubai Airports (DXB). We have received information from Dubai Airports, with regard to slot availability at DX8 Terminal 1 and as a gesture of goodwill and in support of UAE and Nigeria relations, in case Air Peace wishes to start their flights, slots have been blocked by Dubai Airports.
“Slots available and blocked for Air Peace are the following: AOSSOLT DOSOOLT – All days and A0S10LT DOSOOLT – without day 6 .
“As these slots cannot be blocked indefinitely, we would highly appreciate it if Air Peace could kindly reach out to Dubai Airports -ACL and inform them of their intentions to operate by Thursday 16th December, 2021 and accordingly confirm the blocked slots.
“Dubai Airports have also confirmed that dnata — the ground handling agents at OXB have sent the ground handling quotation to Ms. Reham Mustafa — Country Manager and also, Emirates Flight Catering is working on the quotation and should send it out latest by tomorrow morning.
” For landing permissions, they could contact our Air Transport Section as detailed below: Landing Permissions: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
But Air Peace has denounced knowledge of any letter offering them seven slots to Dubai.
One of the managers of the airline who did not want his name in print because he was not authorised to talk on the matter said nothing has changed as the airline can still not fly into the UAE.
According to the source, the laid down procedure is for the government of the UAE to write directly to the Nigerian government and not to Air Peace directly, even if such a letter existed.
He queried the sincerity of the UAE government in ending the fiasco, saying “if they are ready to end the crisis, are they not supposed to write to the Nigerian government? They should write to us because this is a diplomatic issue and the diplomatic procedure is for them to write to Nigerian government and not Air Peace”.