Stranded Nigerians in China, India and other parts of the world will not be airlifted home immediately, the Federal Government said on Monday.
The government decided to pull the brakes on the return of the Nigerians after airlifting 678 in three batches of 265 from United Arab Emirates (UAE), 253 from United Kingdom (UK) and 160 from the United States (U.S.).
Those from the UAE were flown into Lagos last Thursday for the mandatory quarantine process. The second batch of 253 from the UK came in on Friday through Lagos en route Abuja and the third batch of 160 from the U.S. were flown into Abuja early Sunday.
They will be tested on the 13th day of their seclusion to determine their COVID-19 status.
Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, who dropped the hint at the daily briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 Control in Abuja, said the airlifting will resume when there is accommodation.
According to him, the country has exhausted available accommodation for the compulsory 14-day isolation as recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) protocol for people coming in from countries with the COVID-19 burden.
“Consequently, there will be no evacuation until those brought in recently are discharged from the isolation centres,” the minister said.
Over 4,000 Nigerians are stranded in various countries across the globe as a result of global lockdown triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Onyeama explained that the country has provision for 600-bed spaces for the evacuation process.
He said: “Now we have over 600 evacuees in various accommodations in Lagos and Abuja and we are reaching as I understand from our medical people saturation point. The maximum we can really cope with and be able to deliver adequately and professionally the services and the care that we are supposed to.
“This will mean that we will be staggering our flight in evacuating Nigerians and making sure that we deal with the ones we have in place before bringing back others.
“But we hope that in adequate period of time we would be able to bring back some of the others out there. And there are many out there. Nigerians in China, India, Canada, South Africa, Sudan, France, Lebanon, Egypt and all these really call into question our absorptive capacity and capacity to absorb such national base.
“And clearly, our system is been strained, so we really have to take it easier and also to ensure that we can deliver optimally as we are supposed to.”
On the use of local airlines in the evacuation of stranded citizens abroad, the minister assured that subsequent airlifting will be done by Nigerian owned airlines.
He assured that the government has concluded plans to ensure full participation of Nigerian-owned airlines.
He said: “Another issue that has come out in the media quit often has been the issue of using Nigerian carriers. I have explained in the past and do that just very quickly again. The carrier that came from United Arab Emirate is not a government organised one and the one from UK was one that was coming already, and the one that came in from US was one that had been arranged pretty much private sector initiative.
“But the government is mindful of the importance and the need to use local carriers. I am happy to say that we in the process of arranging Nigerian carriers. So, henceforth, going forward, we hope that we will be using only local carriers.”