A growing list of European nations and others such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran on Sunday banned travel to and from the United Kingdom after the emergence of a new variant of the novel coronavirus disease in England.
The new strain of the virus in the UK is said to be 70% more transferable with cases surging in London and large parts of southern and eastern England. The country broke its daily coronavirus case record on Sunday, confirming 35,928 new cases.
This has forced the government to impose a Tier 4 lockdown in affected regions and London as well as tighten movement restrictions for all of England over the festive period. This is essentially a “stay at home” restriction.
In response, France, the Republic of Ireland, Belgium, Latvia, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Czech Republic, and Italy have all halted travel to and from the UK to prevent the new virus from gaining a foothold on the continent.
Should Nigeria follow suit?
Despite having a relatively low number of coronavirus infections, Nigeria is facing the possibility of muted Christmas celebrations as Covid-19 cases continue to surge in the country. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reported 5,176 new infections over the past week – the highest weekly tally so far.
The figure represents a 26% increase from the previous week’s record of 3,820 cases, as Africa’s most-populated nation grapples with a second wave of the virus after the curve had flattened.
State governments have begun to reinstate restrictions as well. Akwa Ibom and Lagos have banned large gatherings, schools have been shut indefinitely in Osun, and in Ekiti, carol services and children’s parties have been prohibited.
With the country still struggling to get an already known variant of the disease under control, Nigeria may need to ban flights from the UK for at least two weeks, or as long as needed, to prevent “importing” the far more infectious strain, notes Shola Adebowale, a health expert at Edmac Hospital.
Although Arbiterz found that travel to the UK had declined post-lockdown compared to holiday destinations such as Dubai and Maldives, a sizeable number of Nigerians are still traveling to and from Britain for business and academic purposes, which makes the country “extremely vulnerable” according to Shola.
“Nigeria has a lot of people incoming from the United Kingdom. The pandemic may have reduced the number of people traveling but many are still arriving, especially those that were stuck and could not come home amid the lockdown,” she said.
For Nigeria, a particular concern is its low testing capacity. The new cases recorded last week came despite a reduction in the number of tests conducted – a total of 29,159 samples compared to 53,919 tested the previous week. Since the pandemic broke out in February, the government has only managed to test over 800,000 people.
That means a more contagious form of the virus would be nearly impossible to trace or caught if it enters the country, a situation Shola cautions would be “catastrophic.”
On the vaccine front, there is however some progress. Nigeria will soon start manufacturing its own vaccines, adhering to required global standards, reports showed on Friday, quoting Director-General of National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Mojisola Adeyeye. But they will most likely not be ready in time to battle the newly discovered virus type if it’s imported into Nigeria.
“With the way the new strain of the disease is spreading, coupled with low testing capacity and no vaccine yet in Nigeria, it would be catastrophic if it somehow gets into the country,” Shola said. “The government has to act quickly on this as it did back in March (when airports were closed to international travel to be later reopened early September).”
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had earlier in the week reiterated his pledge to relax rules over the Christmas period days ago but was forced to re-impose restrictions over the new strain, which is “out of control” according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
There will be no possibility for household mixing over Christmas in Tier 4 areas under the toughest restrictions, the prime minister said, without giving a time-frame for the lockdown.
Affected parts of the UK would likely be under lockdown for as long as it takes to get the fast-spreading strain under control, which is going to be very difficult until the government has the vaccine fully rolled out – it started mass vaccination of its population earlier this month.
There is however no evidence that the new variant is more deadly or would react differently to existing vaccines, according to Hancock.
As of the time of reporting, Britain had 2 million positive coronavirus cases with more than 67,000 deaths. Meanwhile, Nigeria had 77,933 confirmed infections – 67,784 discharged and 1,218 deaths – and globally, the number is more than 76 million, with nearly 1.7 million deaths recorded. Over 43 million have recovered.