COVID-19 Travel restrictions: Politics or necessity?

It is no longer news that COVID-19 has had negative impacts on air travel globally. Measures like rapid tests are being carried out by airlines. Restrictions and boarder closures have been seen. Are the travel ban/ restrictions necessity or mired in politics, asks, WOLE SHADARE

Off guard

 The COVID-19 pandemic caught many airlines by surprised. Not a few of them predicted the huge impact border closures and restrictions would have on the burgeoning global aviation industry. Nations are applying strict measures to curtail the spread of the deadly virus.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries and regions have imposed quarantines, entry bans, or other restrictions for citizens of or recent travelers to the most affected areas.

Other countries and regions have imposed global restrictions that apply to all foreign countries and territories, or prevent their own citizens from travelling overseas.


Together with a decreased willingness to travel, the restrictions have had a negative economic and social impact on the travel sector in those regions. A possible long-term impact has been a decline of business travel and international conferencing, and the rise of their virtual, online equivalents.

Concerns have been raised over the effectiveness of travel restrictions to contain the spread of COVID-19. While many see these restrictions as a way to help them curtail the spread of the killer virus, others are creating serious bottlenecks by paving way for their countries’ airlines or flag carriers to take advantage of certain markets at the expense of others.

Nigeria, EU face-off

This situation first emerged when Nigeria retaliated against some European carriers by banning them from operating to the country.

European Union had in July 2020 at the peak of COVID-19 included Nigeria on the banned countries on the first when they opened their airspace.

Nigeria swiftly retaliated as Aviation Minister, Hadi Sirka simply explained that Nigeria was simply following what each country had done to the country.

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He threatened and carried out the action, saying the country would go ahead and implement the principle of reciprocity to all countries that had banned flights from Nigeria.

Following the diplomatic spat, the French Civil Aviation Authority explained that it never imposed restrictive measures on international to or from France but only on the passengers being allowed to disembark in France.

It stated that such passenger restrictions apply to the vast majority of countries and apply to both foreign and French airlines without any discrimination.


Emirates aircraft and crew members

France’s defence

In a letter written to the Director-General of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Capt. Musa Nuhu dated September 11, 2020 and signed by Deputy Director, Air Services, Directorate of Air Services, French Civil Aviation Authority, Emmanuel Vivet and sighted by AviationMetric said Nigerian airlines are entitled to operate international flights to France in full compliance with the bilateral framework governing the air services between ‘our two countries’.

“For that reason, and on the basis of reciprocity, I kindly request you to grant Air France the relevant authorisation to operate air services to Nigeria”.

Vivet noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had severely impacted the airlines and international air traffic had tremendously decreased.

“Fortunately, even if the traffic remains steadily lower than usual, the standard flights programs of our airlines are progressively resuming. In this context, I am pleased to inform you that Air France has the clear intention to resume its flights to Nigeria”.

UAE bars transit flight from Nigeria

Just last week, United Arab Emirates (UAE) said with effect from February 1, 2021, it would shut transit flights from Nigeria to Dubai.

Only direct flights originating from Nigeria are now permitted to fly directly into UAE. It has effectively also weakened competition from other airlines to Dubai from Nigeria through their hubs.

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Aside that, many Nigerians who had booked flights to Dubai through Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Cairo, Kigali and other European destinations are cut in the web of the new policy that intends to reduce the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.

Apart from leading to travel disruption, the situation could lead to astronomical air fare from Lagos or Abuja to Dubai as other carriers like Egypt Air in a memo to its trade partners said, “Sequence to the memo we received from Dubai Airport Authority asking all Nigeria travelers coming to Dubai to fly directly effective February 1, 2021”.

“In view of this we, therefore request you to kindly notify our esteemed passengers that Egypt Air will not lift passengers from Nigeria to Dubai from January 31, 2021 until further notice. You are hereby advised to check and cancel all your bookings and inform your passengers about this new development”


Suzan Akporiaye 44th NANTA President

“We are in view of the above expressly authorising full refund for those who want to make refund and seek for alternative or tickets will be opened for future flights for passengers needing to keep their tickets. We thank you for all the trust you reposed on our carrier & promised to update you if any further development on this in the nearest future”.

The UAE in a travel advisory tagged, “Dubai Travel Protocol Update-Travel from Nigeria”, stated that all departing Nigeria to Dubai are required to obtain a negative COVID-19 certificate, adding that the PCR should be conducted within 72 hours of the date of departure.

It further stated that all passengers are required to conduct a rapid COVID-19 test and obtain a negative result within four hours of their departure time.

“Passengers must travel directly from Nigeria to Dubai. No passengers may enter Dubai from any other country/station if they have visited or transited via Nigeria in the last 14 days”.

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Expert’s view

President, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies (NANTA), Mrs. Suzan Akporaiye stated that before now, travelers had capacity issues for people travellng to Dubai because of restrictions imposed by different governments.

She noted that the new travel policy by the UAE authority would further shrink capacity with difficulty of how to fly Nigerians to a place they see as a second home.

“More passengers will suffer. I don’t think it was right to take such decision which I believe is totally uncalled for. It is not done in the good spirit of sportsmanship. Dubai is like home to Nigerians. They introduced a second antigen or rapid test; they should have left it at that. It is unfair competition”.

“It is an opportunity for our own carrier, Air Peace but the choice of Sharjah makes it a little bit difficult for them. I see Emirates increasing frequencies to Lagos to two daily flights and one from Abuja”.


Former Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Capt. Ado Sanusi

Consequently, United Airlines, Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France among others have started rapid tests for their passengers. Emirates was actually the first airline in the world to conduct rapid COVID-19 tests for passengers departing from Dubai to Tunisia April last year. Other airlines have followed suit.

Last line

It is becoming increasingly clear that if the world does not come together to draw acceptable rules on travel restrictions, the whole idea of testing would be marred by political considerations.

The idea of each country rolling out its guidelines would be taken advantage of by nations to arm twist competition, just as he called on IATA to draw up acceptable procedure that leaves no room for political manipulation and arm-twisting by nations for their airlines.

Wole Shadare