NIGERIAN government officials have announced that the worldwide evacuation of the country’s citizens who ended up being stranded abroad as a result of the coronavirus pandemic will end on Saturday August 22.
When the pandemic first hit, thousands of Nigerians were stranded abroad as countries shut their borders, cancelled international flights and prohibited movement. Over recent weeks, however, most of these restrictions have been lifted and Nigerian has been organising airlifts to brings her citizens back home.
Domestic airline Air Peace, has been at the centre of the evacuation programme, flying its planes across Europe, North America, Asia and the Middle East to conduct the airlift. Boss Mustapha, the secretary to the federal government and the chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19, said once the evacuation stops, Nigeria’s airports would be given sufficient time to prepare for reopening.
Earlier this week, Nigeria’s aviation minister announced that the government was planning to allow international flights to resume on August 29. Mr Mustapha disclosed that some countries, such as the US, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt, had expressed their readiness to repatriate convicted Nigerians, who had been pardoned and paroled.
He added: “A number of countries have signified intention to repatriate Nigerians convicted and pardoned and paroled in those countries. They include the UAE, Egypt and the United States of America.
“Coming in the midst of our national response to Covid-19, all relevant agencies of government are taking multi-sector steps to ensure that the process remains within acceptable international protocols and in line with bilateral agreements. For the purpose of clarity, this should be distinguished from the normal evacuation flights and we wish to state that all evacuation flights will end on August 22, 2020, after which the airports will be given sufficient time to prepare for reopening.”
Mr Mustapha said the PTF had continued to observe a noticeable decline in fatalities, high discharge rates and consistent under 500 daily cases over the past four weeks in spite of the huge increase in testing capacity and rise in the number of daily tests conducted. He, however, said the nation had not attained the desired level that would enable the PTF to make conclusive statements on the rate of infection in the country.
PTF national coordinator, Sani Aliyu, however, explained that the August 29 date proposed for the resumption of international flights was not sacrosanct. He also said the low level of positive cases did not indicate that the virus had gone.
Health minister Osagie Ehanire, reiterated that the fewer positive cases of the past few days gave the nation no reason to rejoice or to let down its guard. He noted that the government’s target was to reduce the fatality rate to less than one per cent.