News analysis by Gabriel Agbeja, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), said disruption of air travels due to the continued spread of coronavirus would cost Nigeria 434 million US dollars revenue loss and 22,200 jobs.
IATA, an umbrella body for 290 airlines globally, added that Nigeria would also lose approximately 2.2 million passengers, and that the spread of the virus, that was first reported in Wuhan, China, at the beginning of December 2019, would negatively impact the aviation industry worldwide.
In order to check the spread of the coronavirus, the Federal Government has banned international flights into Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), announced the ban in a statement signed by its Director General, Musa Nuhu, on March 21.
“Further to our earlier letter on restriction of international flights into Nigeria, we wish to inform you that effective Monday, 23 March, at 2300Z to 23 April, at 2300Z, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, will be closed to international flights.
“This is in addition to the closure of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu, and Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, effective Saturday, 21 March at 2300Z.
“Henceforth, all airports in Nigeria are closed to all incoming international flights with the exception of emergency and essential flights.”
NCAA added that domestic flights would continue operations at all airports across the nation.
Also as precautionary measure to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Sen. Hadi Sirika, the Minister of Aviation, said that the Federal Government had cancelled already issued visas for travellers from 13 countries.
He listed the countries as: China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, Norway, USA, UK, Netherlands and Switzerland, pointing out that Austria and Sweden were later added, bringing the number to 15.
“The affected countries have over 1,000 cases domestically.
“Some of the foreign airlines expected to be equally affected are British Airways, Lufthansa, Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways, AirFrance, KLM, Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, South African Airways, Kenyan Airways, Rwandair, Turkish Airlines, Egypt Air, Royal Air Maroc and Africa World Airlines.
“Data from the NCAA showed that from January 2019 to December 2019, the foreign airlines recorded 15,474 flights into the five international airports in Nigeria with an average of 298 flights weekly,’’ the minister said.
In a related development, Sirika said that the nation’s international airports had been collaborating with relevant agencies to check the spread of the dreaded COVID-19 into the country.
The minister spoke after inspecting facilities at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, to check its preparedness to forestall spread of the virus in the country.
Sirika was accompanied on the inspection visit by Ministers of Health, Information and Humanitarian Services.
Mr James Odaudu, Director of Public Affairs in the Ministry of Aviation, quoted Sirika as saying that the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) was also working closely with Port Health,
Agriculture Quarantine, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Immigration Service and ground handlers.
He said the Port Health Emergency Contingency Plan ( PHECP), which was designed to detect, prevent and respond to any infectious diseases and outbreak had been very effective.
The minister said successful implementation by PHECP depended on strategies and activities based on collaboration of relevant agencies to mitigate the spread of the disease into the country.
“We have entry screening for arriving passengers by Port Health Services, using the temperature scanners.
“We are also collecting travel history information and carrying out physical observation of all incoming passengers.
“We are also focusing on early recognition and isolation of suspected passengers with facilities to transport them to designated hospitals and trace those that have had contacts with them.
“We also have a designated conducive holding area for Port Health Services in case of suspected cases on any aircraft,” Sirika said.
Nevertheless, the government in the guidelines released by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, at the inaugural meeting of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Control of COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria, banned foreign travels by public servants indefinitely.
Government also advised all Nigerians with non-essential international travel plans, especially to countries with prevalent cases of the COVID-19, to shelf such plans forthwith.
Mustapha, who is also Chairman of the PTF, said the committee had decided to upgrade the nation’s health emergency system to the highest level as a result of the wave of damage the pandemic had been causing globally.
He said that all persons returning to Nigeria from abroad must observe self-isolation for a period of 14 days, adding that more attention would be focussed on those returning from nation’s that had been designated as high risk.
Members of the PTF chaired by Mustapha are: Dr Osagie Ehanire, Minister of Health, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, Minister of Interior, Mr Hadi Sirika, Minister of Aviation, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Services.
Others are: Mr Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Adeleke Mamora, Minister of State, Health, Alhaji Sulaiman Adamu, Minister of Environment.
Mr Yusuf Bichi, Director-General, Department of State Services, Mr Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and WHO Country Representative in Nigeria, Dr Wondimagegnehu Alemu