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Adelani Adepegba, Abuja
Amid preparations for the evacuation of Nigerians abroad due to the raging coronavirus disease across the world, hotels in Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory have refused to make their rooms available for the isolation of the returnees when they eventually arrive in the country.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, said at the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Friday that finding hotels to quarantine the returnees had been a serious challenge because the hotels believed using their facilities to isolate the returnees could damage their brand.
Over 2,000 Nigerians in the United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, China and other countries had registered with the Nigerian missions in their country of residence for their evacuation after agreeing to subject themselves to mandatory coronavirus testing and 14-day quarantine on arrival in Abuja or Lagos. Most of the countries where the returnees are coming from have far more cases than Nigeria.
As of the time of filing this report, the coronavirus had spread to 26 states and the FCT, with 1,095 cases recorded across the country by the NCDC. While 208 patients had been discharged, 32 had died.
The new cases were 80 in Lagos, 21 in Gombe, five in FCT, two each in Zamfara and Edo, and one each in Ogun, Oyo, Kaduna and Sokoto states.
Some countries had equally evacuated their citizens from Nigeria amid the raging virus.
Onyeama had said on Monday that the evacuation would commence next week, noting that two airlines had agreed to bring back the citizens at affordable rates. He noted that the returnees would be brought back in batches of 200 but that their accommodation was the next challenge.
But, while giving an update in Abuja on Friday, the minister said the government was facing the challenge of securing hotels where the returnees could be quarantined.
He explained that he sought the assistance of the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, but that the governor could not get hotels in the state to release their premises as isolation centres.
Onyeama said, “The numbers (of Nigerians awaiting evacuation) in the UK alone is about 2,000 and the simple fact of the matter is that we don’t just have the isolation centres, the hospital beds and hotels to accommodate them all.
“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 for the governor to find hotels that are willing to take these people in for 14 days
“A lot of hotels clearly feel it would damage their brand or it would have some effects on their business. That has been a real problem for us now.”
The minister said the task force tinkered with the idea of directing the returnees to go on self-isolation, but noted that there was no guarantee that they would stay at home.
Onyeama said, “The other alternative is for people to come back and be isolated in their homes. But when you have such numbers, some members of the task force feel there is a risk; that you cannot guarantee that they would stay at home in quarantine and it would be very difficult to monitor that number of people for two weeks.
“So, this is a real dilemma we are facing and you can imagine, if they start coming back and the numbers of positive cases start increasing, then the government would be blamed that why did you bring so many people back? These are all the issues we are grappling with.”
Commenting on the issues facing Nigerians in China, the minister said the Federal Government was addressing the extension of the quarantine period for some Nigerians, adding that the Chinese government had promised to assist them.
On the number of Nigerians who tested positive for the virus in China, he said, “When I met with the Chinese ambassador and he talked about the plane that came to their country in which there were Nigerian passengers who subsequently tested positive, it was within the range of nine, 12 and 13.”
However, a diplomatic correspondence from the Guangzhou Municipal Government to the Federal Government obtained by our correspondent indicated that 72 Nigerians tested positive for COVID-19 in Guangzhou city.