Omicron, the new variant of COVID-19 pandemic, is taking its toll on the aviation sector in the country.
Due to the global alert, measures by the United Kingdom, United States and Canada to curtail its spread have drastically affected international flight schedules, thereby creating discomfort for passengers.
Yesterday, many UK- bound passengers were stranded at the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport (NAIA), Abuja and the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos.
Shortly after the flight cancellation, the British High Commission announced its decision to put on hold visitor visa applications from red list countries, including Nigeria.
The commission however, explained that from 4 am today, only British and Irish nationals and residents travelling from Nigeria would be allowed into the country.
The commission also said they must isolate in a government-managed quarantine hotel.
However, the Federal Government expressed displeasure at its red listing by the United Kingdom government.
Canada also introduced new guidelines, including the rejection of results of molecular COVID-19 tests done in Nigeria and nine other African countries.
The U.S. said air passengers boarding a flight from a foreign country to any of its airports must get a COVID-19 viral test, regardless of vaccination status or citizenship, no more than one day before travel.
Virgin and British Airways are the biggest airlines carrying passengers on the Nigeria-London route. They carry on daily basis between 250 to 300n passengers daily.
A return ticket on any of the airline costs about N1 million, especially at this period of the year when not a few Nigerians had planned to reunite with their loved ones during the yuletide.
The flight suspension will lead to huge economic loss to the airlines should the restriction is sustained.
Nigeria, which had recorded three Omicron cases as of yesterday, had on Friday unveiled modified travel guidelines. The United Kingdom has recorded 86 cases of the new variant while in the US, 15 states are said to have also been hit.
Travel chiefs are however, furious over the new restrictions.
Although, British Airways (BA) did not operate its inbound flight from London to Lagos, it announced yesterday the cancellation of flights from Lagos into London Heathrow, citing operational reasons
Sources at the MMIA told The Nation that it had to do with the implementation of the travel ban by UK authorities.
Many passengers who had turned up at the airport for check-in procedures were disappointed as the BA counters were virtually empty.
Some workers informed the distraught passengers that the flight into the UK had been rescheduled.
Some passengers who sought clarification for the sudden twist of events were handed flyers signed by the BA Customer Service Duty Manager, Nwanorue Alexander.
One of the flyers received by The Nation reads: “We would like to inform you of a change to the departure time of your flight BA 074 on December 5, 2021, to London Heathrow. We have had to make this adjustment to our schedule due to operational reasons…
“We are sorry for the change to your travel plans. Please, be rest assured that we will do everything we can to help.If you need additional help, please, speak to a member of our team at Lagos Airport.”
An immigration source attributed the glitch in travel to the new rules set by the UK government for admitting other nations into the country.
Scores of passengers at the airport expressed displeasure over the development, saying it would force them to review their travel plans.
There were however, long queues of passengers travelling out of the country through Turkish Airlines, African World Airlines, Air France, Qatar Airways, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines.
In Abuja, passengers who also stormed the NAIA were left dejected.
An official of the airport blamed it on overbooking.
He said: “They said the rules will take effect from tomorrow (today). So, some people wanted to beat the deadline by going today (yesterday), but BA could not take all of them. So, there are a lot of them that they could not take and that is why they are stranded.”
Another official in the security department said: “Most of them are stranded because the flight they booked was overbooked and the airline had to give preference to those who booked them first.
“Some people stormed the airport to change their travel plans because the new travel protocol from the UK is unfortunately not in favour of Nigerians.
“The protocol is expected to take effect from Monday(today) and in a bid to beat the protocol, we noticed people rushed to the airport in an attempt to reschedule their flight for Sunday(yesterday) but the airline was overbooked and it could not carry beyond its capacity.
“So, the rush witnessed at the airport is because people don’t want to be caught in the web of the new protocol introduced by the UK due to the new COVID-19 Omicron variant.”
In a statement yesterday, the British High Commission said the suspension of processing visitor visa applications in Nigeria will continue until the travel ban is lifted.
The statement reads:”To support the UK Government’s aim to protect public health from COVID-19 and associated variants of concern (VOC), UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will pause making decisions on visitor visa applications in all red list countries, including Nigeria until travel restrictions are lifted
“Visit visas cover travel to the UK for tourism, visiting family and friends, undertaking short-term business activities (for example, attending meetings), undertaking short-term studies (under 6 months), taking part in research or exchange programmes as an academic, medical reason (for example, receiving private medical treatment).
“If you apply for a visit visa in a red list country and you meet the UK Immigration Rules, your application will be paused. You will not receive a decision on your visit visa application whilst red list travel restrictions remain in place.
“You will not be able to request a refund of your visa fee once you have given your biometrics at a Visa Application Centre (VAC). If you already hold a valid visit visa and are intending to travel to England as a visitor from a red list country, you will not be allowed to enter.
The commission also said visas or entry permits from red list countries will only be issued where there are compelling and compassionate circumstances.
It added: “There are only very limited exemptions to travel and entry requirements for critical workers and medical and compassionate cases,” the statement reads.
“If you have submitted a visit visa application and you do not wish to withdraw, we will continue to hold your application.
“If you choose to continue with your visa application, you will not