COVID-19: Over 2000 Nigerians anxious to leave UK, says Foreign Affairs Minister

April 24, 2020
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Over 2000 Nigerians residing in the United Kingdom are anxious to return to Nigeria amid the threat posed by pandemic coronavirus.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, made this disclosure on Friday at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said apart from Nigerians in the United Kingdom, Nigerians in other countries were equally getting impatient.

He specifically expressed concern about the fate of Nigerians in Guangzhou, a city in the Republic of China, some of whom have been ejected from their hotels and residential quarters.

He, however, insisted that his ministry could not be blamed for the delay in their evacuation, citing inadequate facilities at home to accommodate the huge numbers of those to be evacuated.

He said: “I have been getting a lot of messages also from China about a number of Nigerians who are there and whose quarantine period have been extended and they find it difficult to live because they are being asked to pay for their hotels.

“Now when I engaged the Chinese ambassador one of the things he showed me are going to address and have started to address was the issue of cost and payment that Nigerians have to pay and the government was also looking favourably at extending some assistance to Nigerians.

“That’s one issue but of course, you don’t say from there that their predicament is because of the delay on the part of the Nigerian government in evacuating them. It isn’t totally correct. We can only evacuate until everything is ready here in the country.

“We have Nigerians who want to come back from all over the world. The number in the United Kingdom alone is about 2000 and the simple fact of the matter is that we just don’t have the isolation centres and the hospital beds and so forth, the hotels to accommodate them.

“We have been looking for hotels in Abuja and Lagos. I spoke this afternoon (Friday) with the governor of Lagos State and it is a real challenge even with Lagos State to find hotels that are willing to take the risk for the 14 days. A lot of hotels clearly feel that it will damage their brand, it will have some effect on their business. That has been a big problem for us now.

“The other alternative is for people to then come back and be isolated in their homes. But when you have such numbers, some of the people and the task force, there is a risk. You can’t get the guarantee that they will stay in their homes under quarantine and it will be very difficult to monitor that number of people for two weeks.

“So this is the real dilemma we are facing and of course, you can imagine if they start coming back and the numbers of those who test positive start spiking and the government will be blamed and people will start asking, “why did you bring so many people back?”

“So, these are the issues we are facing but hopefully, we would find a solution to that. But we are doing everything humanly possible to start bringing a number of our people out there and we know the difficulties, the pains they are going through and the financial challenges that a lot of them are facing, but we are looking at all the possibilities to ease the burden on them and to facilitate their coming home.”

Onyema equally justified the position of his ministry to conduct the test on Nigerians on arrival rather than at their country of departure.

“The question about Nigerians in the UK, and the whole issue of testing before boarding or testing when they get home.

“Now, this is something that the task force studied very carefully and I got all the best medical advice and it was finally decided that since there were countries that it wasn’t even going to be possible to get any testing done, that it was better that at the airport you just do the usual testing of temperature and the general look, maybe coughing and for reasons such as that, if somebody at that stage tests negative, it could be an incubation period and it could actually be positive and so on. So it was better for all the normal precautions to be taken on the flight and then to be tested when they reach the country.”

He, however, denied a media report which put the number of Nigerians who have tested positive to the virus in China at 72.

According to Onyeama only nine and not 72 Nigerians tested positive to the disease in the Asian nation.

“The media report mentioned that there were apparently 72 Nigerians who have tested positive to COVID-19 in China. We have a Consulate in Guangzhou, which is the epicentre of all the things that are happening in China regarding COVID-19.

“The official figure that was given was nine Nigerians and as I understand it, our Consulate added that a number of Nigerians were asymptomatic but the figures that we had was nine.”

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