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Emirates Suspends Flights to Nigeria After it Was Blocked From Rolling Out Rapid COVID Tests

Emirates Suspends Flights to Nigeria After it Was Blocked From Rolling Out Rapid COVID Tests

Emirates has suspended flights from Nigeria just days after the Nigerian government blocked the airline from deploying rapid COVID-19 antigen tests on all passengers intending to travel from Abuja and Lagos to Dubai. The airline simply stated that flights had been suspended due to “government directives” without providing any further details.

As well as a ban on flights from Nigeria to Dubai, anyone who has been in Nigeria for the past 14-days will be barred from entering the United Arab Emirates (UAE) through a third country until February 28 at the earliest. The flight ban is likely to be extended.

The new travel restrictions could be an attempt to prevent the importation of new highly-infectious variants of the COVID-19 virus including the B.1.351 variant which was first detected in South Africa. Emirates has already suspended flights to South Africa amidst fears that the fast-spreading virus variant could reduce the efficacy of vaccines.

Observers, however, point out that the latest flight suspension could be connected to Nigeria’s pre-departure testing regime. Earlier this month, Emirates faced a temporary ban on flying to Nigeria after the airline said it wanted to make passengers take a rapid antigen test prior to boarding.

The 15-minute quick turnaround test was in addition to mandatory PCR tests required within 72-hours of travel and a further mandatory test on arrival in Dubai.

Nigerian officials, however, slapped Emirates with a 72-hour travel ban over the proposal because the testing partner the airline had given the contract to had not been approved by the government. The ban was quickly lifted after Emirates agreed not to introduce rapid pre-departure testing.

Emirates never said why it wanted to add an extra layer of testing on its flights from Nigeria but it’s understood that on just one flight from Nigeria, 40 per cent of passengers tested positive for COVID-19 despite presenting negative test certificates prior to departure.

An investigation by the BBC also found fraudulent ‘fit to fly’ certificates issued by fake clinics in Nigeria. Fake PCR tests have become a growing problem around the world with governments so far doing little to stamp out the issue. Emirates, along with a number of other airlines, is set to launch an app that is designed to verify the authenticity of test results.

Emirates is not set to bring the IATA travel pass app online until April.

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