Nigerian Official Calls U.K. Travel Ban 'Discriminatory' and 'Not Driven By Science'

The United Kingdom has limited travel due to the spread of the new omicron variant, banning Nigerian visitors in new precautions leaders of the West African country said are "not driven by science," the Associated Press reported.

The British government on Saturday added Nigeria to its "red list," which consists of countries whose visitors are banned from travel to the U.K. According to U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid, 27 omicron cases have been connected to Nigeria, although Nigerian authorities said they have not reported any new omicron cases since Dec. 1, when three travelers from South Africa tested positive.

Nigeria's Information Minister Lai Mohammed told reporters that the travel ban is "not driven by science" and is "unjust, unfair, punitive, indefensible and discriminatory."

"Instead of these reflex responses that are driven by fear, rather than science. Why can't the world take a serious look at the issue of access to vaccines, and ensure that it is based on the principles grounded in the right of every human to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health, without discrimination on the basis of race, religion, political belief, economic or any other social condition?" Mohammed said.

Nigeria's Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire told the Associated Press that the country is not imposing travel bans on any country, but is striving to increase surveillance and testing to "balance saving lives and saving livelihoods."

About 3.78 million people in Nigeria's 206 million population have been fully vaccinated and new omicron cases have averaged 80 a day.

Ehanire said the country is able to access 100 million doses of the vaccine and will begin administering booster shots after being approved last week.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Nigerian COVID Vaccine Center
A woman receives a coronavirus vaccine in Abuja, Nigeria, Monday, Nov 29, 2021. The United Kingdom has limited travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic, banning Nigerian visitors in new precautions allegedly “not driven by science”. Gbemiga Olamikan/Associated Press

Ehanire called a travel ban "an extreme step" that Nigerian authorities are not going to take now "because we know that the virus somehow gets around and we do all we can to make sure that we reduce the rate at which carriers enter our country."

Nigeria requires inbound travelers to take a COVID-19 PCR test within 48 hours of their departure, take another test on the second day after arrival and self-isolate for seven days, after which a third test is done if not fully vaccinated.

A mass vaccination program in Nigeria is gradually gathering momentum as the nation aims to fully vaccinate 55 million people in the next two months. The health minister said Nigeria also is seeking to produce COVID-19 vaccines locally funded by a combination of government money and investors.

"We are ready, we are willing and we also know that Nigeria generally will consider the needs of the whole of West Africa when you are making an investment like this," he said.