Policing minister Kit Malthouse called the Nigerian High Commissioner’s words “very unfortunate language”.
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Boris Johnson’s decision to put Nigeria on the UK’s travel red list has been branded “travel apartheid”.
UK and Irish citizens and residents arriving from the country have to spend ten days in hotel quarantine and have two negative PCR test results, in measures which came into force from 4am on Monday.
Ministers announced the move as they scramble to contain outbreaks of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
But the Nigerian High Commissioner to London, Sarafa Tunji Isola, told journalists on Monday that he agrees with UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who criticised measures imposed by various countries against African nations as “travel apartheid”.
Asked about restrictions, Mr Isola told the BBC : “The reaction in Nigeria is that of travel apartheid. Because Nigeria is actually aligned with the position of the UN secretary-general that the travel ban is apartheid, in the sense that we’re not dealing with an endemic situation, we are dealing with a pandemic situation and what is expected is a global approach, not selective.”
He added: “(Omicron) is classified as a mild variant – no hospitalisation, no death. So the issue is quite different from the Delta variant. I mean, the position has to be taken based on scientific and empirical evidence. It is not a kind of panicky situation.”
Policing minister Kit Malthouse said while he understands the difficulties caused by such measures, the phrase “travel apartheid” is “very unfortunate language”.
He told Today: “It’s very unfortunate language to use.
“We understand the difficulties that’s created by these travel restrictions, but we’re trying to buy a little bit of time so that our scientists at Porton Down can work on the virus and assess how difficult it’s going to be for us to cope with as a country.”
Announcing the measure on Saturday, the Government said the vast majority of cases in the UK have clear links to overseas travel from South Africa and Nigeria.
At that stage officials said that, over the previous week, 21 Omicron cases reported in England originated from Nigeria.