Independent Hajj Reporters, a civil society organisations that monitors and reports Hajj and Umrah activities has called on the Federal Government of Nigeria to deploy diplomatic measures to engage the government of Saudi Arabia with a view to ending the flight suspension placed on Nigeria by the Kingdom of over the prevalence Omicron variant of Covid-19.
IHR in a statement on Thursday signed by its National Coordinator, Ibrahim Muhammad said it acknowledged and lauds the proactive efforts of Saudi Arabia in protecting the Holy Sites and Muslims from the virus that resulted in restricting countries that has reported the Omicron Variant.
“However, it is our hope that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is aware that other countries such as the United States, United Kingdom and Canada, who had earlier invoked flight suspension on Nigeria based on Omicron, have now lifted the suspension”.
“In addition, United States had on Tuesday lifted the travel ban initially imposed on South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi over Omicron; after United States Center for Disease Control recommends lifting the travel restrictions arguing that such restrictions are no longer necessary to protect the public health”.
The statement appealed to Saudi Arabia to queue into the World Health Organization advice against blanket travel ban over omicron and lift the suspension on Nigerian Pilgrims.
It is apparent that what countries need to do is to adopt measures that will stem the tide of Omicron spread without having to selectively ban some countries.
It said “Moreso, Nigerian Hajj Operators being the fifth Hajj/Umrah facilitators has suffered serious financial losses running into billions of naira.
Many of the operators have closed shop with many more in debt with no special bail out or hardship curtailment assistance from any quarter”.
Both Nigeria and Saudi Arabia should understand that the recent suspension came at a time when the few Hajj/Umrah Operators who are trying to stand the heat begin to salvage what remains of their business. Further delay or continued blockade of Nigeria from entering the Kingdom will definitely lead to the collapse of an entire Hajj and Umrah Industry”. The statement added
IHR stated that its appeal is also based on The International Air Transport Association (IATA) earlier call on governments of all nations to follow the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) and immediately rescind travel bans that were placed on Nigeria, South Africa and others – called that has been heeded by United Kingdom and Canada.
The advice states that “public health organizations, including the WHO, have kicked against travel bans to contain the spread of Omicron, that blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data.
“After nearly two years with COVID-19, we know a lot about the virus and the inability of travel restrictions to control its spread. But the discovery of the Omicron variant induced instant amnesia on governments which implemented knee-jerk restrictions in complete contravention of advice from the WHO”
“Based on the above, we appeal to relevant agencies in the Kingdom to review the direct travel ban placed on Nigeria with a view to lifting the ban as soon as it is desirable,” the statement added.