Travel industry "in tailspin" as federal government adopts new COVID-19 test rules - THE CANADIAN PRESS
CALGARY — The travel industry in Canada has been thrown into a "tailspin" by new federal rules requiring a COVID-19 test before Canadians are allowed back into the country from most international travel, says the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors.
The timing of Transport Minister Marc Garneau's announcement of the new protocol last Thursday — New Year's Eve — could not have been worse because many agents had closed their offices for the holiday long weekend, the group said in a statement.
"The releasing of this new protocol in the afternoon of New Year's Eve put most of our industry into a tailspin," ACITA said.
"With no warning in place, people who had chosen to travel over the New Year were not given the opportunity to cancel or change their trips."
ACITA is a new association started by independent travel agents last spring in part to lobby for government assistance for the industry due to challenges caused by the pandemic.
It says the testing move "seems to be having the opposite effect" from helping the industry recover.
The federal Conservatives are calling for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons to consider a study of the testing requirement, with multiple Liberal ministers asked to testify.
The change in Ottawa's policy left travel agents like Calgary's Janez Law scrambling to get in touch with clients who are on trips or planning to take trips.
"People don't like it very much but what can you do, you have no choice if you want to come home, right?" she said, adding it's difficult to provide advice to her clients because of the lack of detail in Ottawa's plan.
She said a Canadian client now in the Philippines said she will have to endure a six-hour-plus bus trip to the capital, Manila, to get the required test to ensure she is allowed back into Canada when she returns on Thursday.
Law said such tests are expensive in most of Asia, adding the test in Manila is expected to cost $150.
Her agency, Travel Far and Beyond, specializes in arranging trips to Asia but has experienced a 90 per cent decline in volume due to the pandemic.
Law added she personally supports the idea of more testing of travellers if it makes Canada safer.
The new rules will further discourage customers who are already wary of travelling to Africa during the pandemic because of its perceived quality of health care, said Pat Littlejohn, a co-owner of Toronto's Wild Journeys Safaris in Africa.
"We sell trips to Africa. It actually might be very difficult to obtain one of these tests in Africa before returning to Canada. This just might be an impossibility," she said.
"To put that requirement on just seems to just shut down travel, basically."
Quick tests for COVID-19 at the airport would be a much better way to proceed, she said, adding many of her clients have put their plans "on hold" until the pandemic situation clears up.
The ACITA statement says most travel clients are willing to accept an additional cost related to travel during the pandemic but fear they could face "being gouged" to get the required testing.
"Our clients, those who have travel booked, are now looking to cancel their trips, not only due to the uncertainty that arises should they have difficulty getting a test within the allotted 72-hour time frame, but also due to the additional costs associated," the group said in its statement.
It added that travel agents have been unable to tell passengers set to depart Canada this week whether testing locations they've identified will be included in Ottawa's list of approved facilities since that list hadn't been published.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.
Dan Healing, The Canadian Press
NCC clears air on alleged mass disconnection of telephone subscribers - THE NEWS
The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has cleared the air on speculations of impending mass disconnection of telephone subscribers.
The NCC said the speculations arose as a result of numerous publications in both the print and electronic media on the ongoing linkage of SIM registration records with the National Identity Number (NIN).
NCC Director, Public Affairs, Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, made the clarification in a statement he issued late Wednesday in Abuja.
â€œMost of these publications are based on the erroneous assumption that for every network or SIM connection, there is one unique human subscriber.
â€œHowever, with the advent of social media and App-driven digital environment, network subscription went beyond human subscribers to include machines like PoS, Routers, WiFi devices, electricity meters, CCTV, tracking devices etc,â€ he said.
Adinde recalled that a recent survey conducted in Nigeria showed that there were approximately four to five SIMs to every human subscriber.
â€œThis explains the basis of allowing the linkage of up to seven SIMs to one unique NIN in the recently launched Federal Government Portal.
â€œThus, if there are 43 million Nigerians with NINs, this could account for about 172 million SIMs already linked to NINs.
â€œIt is very important to emphasise that the current exercise of linking NIN to SIMs is for the common good of all Nigerians, as it has far reaching benefits.
â€œApart from enhancing our general safety, this will help in such vital exercises like national budgeting, policy planning, social intervention programmes and many more, the statement said.
The Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, had said that the Federal Government would continue to review the exercise in the light of experiences, to ensure its smooth implementation.
FG removes VAT from airfares, aviation services - THE GUARDIAN
By Wole Oyebade
About three years after a similar order, the Federal Government has again suspended the deduction of 7.5 per cent Value Added Tax (VAT) on airfares and other air transport services.
The latest suspension order, scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2021, is contained in the 2020 finance act recently signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
A member of the bill drafting committee and West Africa Tax Lead, PwC Nigeria, Taiwo Oyedele, confirmed the development via a tweet yesterday.
The government had earlier suspended five per cent charges on imported commercial aircraft and spare parts.
The FG in June 2018 issued an executive order on the suspension of VAT in air transport. The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) claimed to be unaware of such a directive, hence it was never implemented.
Airline operators had complained that Nigeria is the only country that still charges VAT on air transport services. The VAT plus 36 other charges, according to the airlines, account for at least 40 per cent of total revenue and N10 billion in taxes yearly, leaving the airlines heavily indebted and in financial distress or both in most cases.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Med-View Airlines Plc, Muneer Bankole, said he heard of the then removal but that it was never implemented.
Bankole said: â€œSince we heard about it, we have started talking to FIRS, but they are still chasing us (to pay VAT).â€
He said as good as the intention seems, nothing has really changed to realign Nigerian aviation with global best practices.
â€œDefinitely, you know that commercial operations like airlines have international connections; you donâ€™t pay VAT anywhere in the world. So, let us do the right things here. All these charges; VAT and taxes donâ€™t apply to aviation because they donâ€™t help the airline business. That is why our airlines are nose-diving and government agencies just sit down looking.
â€œThey (regulatory agencies) should get out of this colonial approach. Every government agency should go out, fend to get money, and work as a real service provider. That is the way to go. When you say you are committed to paying five per cent to this, four per cent to that, three per cent to another, and so on, then you are still in the colonial era,â€ Bankole said.
Dana Air Media and Communications Manager, Kingsley Ezenwa, said the airline would be excited to plow back the proceeds of VAT removal to the business and ticket fares subsidy â€œbut that may not happen soonâ€.
Ezenwa noted that the expected gains are subject to the actual implementation of the policy and the review of other multiple charges in the aviation industry.
According to the estimates availed by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the total VAT generated in 2017 was in excess of N5 billion.
Former chairman of the Airlines Operators of Nigeria (AON), Capt. Nogie Meggison, said they had been for decades seeking immediate removal of VAT from domestic air transportation in line with global best practice.
â€œVAT is an added burden on our passengers who have limited disposal funds and have reached their elastic point in this difficult time in the nationâ€™s economy.
â€œThis adversely affects the sector by reducing the number of those who can afford to travel by air due to high fares in this tough economic time. This has been shown to be true according to a recent report from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) that passenger traffic dropped by 27 per cent in 2017 and by another seven per cent in the first quarter of 2018 making it a total of 34 per cent drop in passenger traffic within a span of one year.â€
Airlines Try Ultra-Cheap Fares to Get the World Flying Again - BLOOMBERG
(Bloomberg) -- The nightmare year of 2020 brought the airline industryâ€™s first decade of sustained profitability to a shuddering halt. The coronavirus pandemic tore through in a tumultuous, unprecedented way -- leaving carriers in a deep hole, along with a constellation of aerospace manufacturers, airports and leasing firms.
2021 is shaping up to be a transition year for an enterprise that takes passengers on the equivalent of 208 million annual trips around the globe. At best, the path ahead will be bumpy, with progress toward a return to travel dependent on the pace of vaccine roll-outs, access to capital, government policies and the unpredictability of a virus thatâ€™s not yet fully understood. Still, there will be leaps, including the first commercial flights to near-space.
Here are some developments to look for over the next 12 months.
Airline traffic wonâ€™t see a major boost until vaccines saturate populations enough to stamp down infection rates. Even then, it may take effort to get some people back on planes. In Europe, thatâ€™ll mean fares as low as 9.99 euros ($12.33), according to Ryanair Holdings Plc Chief Executive Officer Michael Oâ€™Leary. The Irish discounter on Thursday slashed its schedule through March, underscoring the uncertainties still clouding the industry outlook. Other ideas being floated to entice travelers are free hotel stays, 2-for-1 deals and complimentary travel insurance. Travel-pass promotions from carriers such as China Eastern Airlines Corp., which is offering unlimited flights for a single price, have proved popular, while online agents show ultra-cheap trips in China for the Lunar New Year holiday next month. The key question is how long itâ€™ll take to wean customers off those incentives. An upturn in leisure and family travel should hit most regions by around midyear. More lucrative business traffic is likely to trail as companies resist sending people out on the road. John Grant, chief analyst at flight-bookings specialist OAG, says it wonâ€™t be a recovery until enticements are no longer needed and carriers can manage routes for profit.
Airlines raised record amounts of money in 2020. More will be required in 2021. Stock sales and debt conversions will take on a greater importance as companies try to restore balance sheets to health. Governments, which ponied up $220 billion in state aid last year according to Moodyâ€™s, will continue to play a role. France and the Netherlands, the largest shareholders in Air France-KLM, are in negotiations to inject billions of euros more, while converting part of the 10.4 billion euros already loaned into hybrid debt. Carriers like EasyJet Plc are likely to raise more equity, while cash burn remains a concern, according to Daniel Roeska, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. Some airlines are in more desperate straits. Norwegian Air Shuttle ASAâ€™s court-supervised restructuring plan relies on attracting new investment and would largely drop its well-known trans-Atlantic business to focus on regional services. Creditors of bankrupt Thai Airways International Pcl are due to consider a rehabilitation plan in February. AirAsia X Bhd., the Malaysian long-distance carrier, and Thailandâ€™s Nok Airlines Pcl are also due to present plans in coming months. U.S. airlines will receive $15 billion in federal aid to help pay workers through March 31, on top of $25 billion in similar help provided during 2020. The U.S. Treasury Department has made billions more available in the form of loans.
Dozens of airlines have disappeared or filed for bankruptcy since the pandemic began. More are on life support, in danger of getting swallowed by stronger players. In Germany, Deutsche Lufthansa AG is taking straight aim at holiday specialist Condor by adding routes to sunny spots like Zanzibar and Corfu. Condor, once a Lufthansa unit that in 2019 survived the failure of then-parent Thomas Cook, could make a tempting target. However, natural consolidators like Lufthansa that accepted bailouts may be prevented from making purchases under terms of state aid packages. In India, Tata Sons Ltd. bought out struggling partner AirAsia Group Bhd.â€™s stake in a local joint venture. State-owned Air India is another potential target, possibly through Vistara, Tataâ€™s venture with Singapore Airlines Ltd. Air Indiaâ€™s buyer would â€œdefinitely need to make it a lot leaner,â€ Bloomberg Intelligence analyst James Teo says.
After years of work and premature predictions, the first â€œordinaryâ€ space adventurers are poised to take flight in 2021 with billionaire Richard Branson inaugurating commercial suborbital rides at Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. The company has told investors its spacecraft will carry Branson from New Mexico in the first quarter and then commence services with a group of about 600 early customers who have paid as much as $250,000 a ticket. Bransonâ€™s venture could see competition from Jeff Bezos, whoâ€™s developing Blue Origin LLCâ€™s New Shepard reusable rocket for suborbital rides. In October, the company performed its seventh test flight from Van Horn, Texas. It plans â€œa coupleâ€ more before humans fly. A third outfit, Elon Muskâ€™s Space Exploration Technologies Corp., is set to fly a four-person private crew for Axiom Space Inc. late in the year. The group will have a 10-day stint aboard the International Space Station as part of NASAâ€™s efforts to spur commercial enterprise in low-earth orbit.
While interest is starting to pick up for smaller jetliners, the market for twin-aisle aircraft from Airbus SE and Boeing Co. is â€œbeyond grim,â€ said aerospace consultant Richard Aboulafia. Sales were depressed before the outbreak, and a surplus of used models will crimp demand for years. With long-distance travel on hold, Airbus and Boeing have seen higher retirement rates for their biggest planes within airline fleets and a dearth of new orders. And thereâ€™s not much sign of encouragement. Boeing is fighting to hold on to orders for the largest plane on the market, its 777-9, which is two years behind schedule. Analysts see more production-rate cuts ahead for the better-selling Boeing 787 -- which is also beset by production snafus -- and the Airbus A350. Output of the less-popular A330 could go down to one a month, according to Agency Partners analyst Sash Tusa. The plane has struggled to attact orders despite a reengined version, with biggest customer AirAsia Xâ€™s financial troubles the latest blow. Still, analysts predict the program will limp on at lower rates rather than being scrapped.
Major airlines packed into ever smaller destinations as the boom in air travel hit its zenith in 2019. Now, theyâ€™re dropping newly unprofitable routes to stem losses. Fewer flights, smaller planes and reduced big-city connections are eating into the economies of some tourism-dependent locations. A portion of the pullback could last indefinitely, according to OAGâ€™s Grant. Particularly vulnerable are longer routes that were still in their developmental phase. From late March, British Airways will permanently axe 13 long-haul destinations across North America, the Middle East, South Africa and Asia. Cathay Pacific will cease services to seven global locations as losses mount. Cities such as Manchester, England, are vulnerable to weaker links to key markets like China, while flights from Beijing to Lisbon, Barcelona and even Madrid could come under pressure as airlines re-evaluate. Large Middle Eastern carriers like Emirates and Qatar Airways, which thrive on whisking passengers across the world, arenâ€™t likely to fill the gaps, according to Grant. He says theyâ€™re serving as many destinations as they can, given a dearth of connecting traffic. â€œItâ€™s more about getting back to pre-Covid capacity and demand levels.â€
While launching an airline into the teeth of the industryâ€™s worst-ever downturn might seem reckless, there is some logic. Financing remains cheap, and the pandemic has created a huge fleet of grounded jetliners, many owned by leasing firms desperate to find new operators. Planemakers are also seeking buyers for brand-new aircraft following order cancellations -- Boeingâ€™s 737 Max in particular as the model returns from a 20-month grounding. Incumbents have cut capacity and thousands of jobs, providing would-be rivals with a glut of experienced staff, while high debt levels limit their ability to fight back. Among projects underway, Cyrus Capital aims to revive Britainâ€™s Flybe after buying the brand from administrators, while newly founded Emerald Airlines has won a contract to provide regional flights for Irelandâ€™s Aer Lingus. Oslo-based Flyr, set to launch in coming months, wants to pick up traffic from Norwegian, and the founders of PT Lion Mentari Airlines are said to be planning a startup in Indonesia. In North America, Canadaâ€™s Flair Airlines aims to expand from three jets to 50 under a new brand and management, while in Miami, Global Crossing Airlines, flying as GlobalX, plans to operate charter flights to Latin America. South African lessor Global Airways helped launch discounter Lift on Dec. 10 with its own surplus jets, indicating a possible new direction for finance firms stuck with idled planes.
Brave New World
Just as long security lines, removing your shoes and limits on liquids have colored the post 9/11 experience of air travel, Covid is likely to herald continued use of masks, social distancing and apps for passenger records. â€œWhen we look back on this in five or 10 years, itâ€™s going to be a catalyst for many changes,â€ says John Strickland of airline advisory firm JLS Consulting. Customers are likely to demand airlines maintain their current high levels of hygiene, which could impact profitability. One major change thatâ€™s becoming part of the landscape is the introduction of pre-departure Covid tests. Carriers had pushed for the step as a way to encourage travel, but had little success until the detection of a new strain of the virus in Britain forced governments into a rethink. France and other European nations demanded screening for all U.K. passengers, while carriers including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. made checks mandatory for U.S.-bound flights — a policy the U.S. is itself considering for flights coming in from abroad. Separately, many airlines have eliminated change fees, and refunds could get easier after cash-strapped carriers held on to revenue for canceled flights, prompting an outcry. Improvements to processes for boarding and check-in are also likely to become permanent.
(Updates with Ryanair schedule cutbacks in Fare Wars section)
Emigrate, but Don't Burn Your Nigerian Bridge - THISDAY
y Olusegun Adeniyi
Once again, Nigerian professionals between the ages of 25 and 40 are emigrating abroad. Those who are married go with their families. Economic upheaval at home and an almost out of hand national security challenge explain why these young citizens choose to vote with their passports. But this is also a global phenomenon. Whether in Africa, Asia or the Americas, we are dealing with what Patrick Gilligan has described as the 'No Nation' Generation whose members "are breaking ties with their birth countries and seeking a more affordable and better standard of living overseas."
The leading countries in which most of these professionals seek to reside, going by the latest MoveHub global survey, are the United Kingdom, Australia, US, Spain, Canada, France, New Zealand, Germany, Ireland and Portugal. At number 16, the only African country on the list is South Africa. According to the survey, "the majority chose better job prospects as the main reason to move country" which then reveals that "young people are moving abroad for profound reasons, to advance themselves and their career in a hospitable environment, rather than for the change of weather."
In the case of Nigeria, dwindling opportunities resulting from mismanagement of our affairs amid a population growth that far exceeds our resources has compelled many of our young citizens to look abroad. As I said in my 1st October 2016 Platform Nigeria presentation, confronted with a dilemma of having roamed the streets for several years after graduation without job prospects, many have re-examined their options. Even those supposedly meaningfully engaged suffer all manner of indignities from places of work where they are paid miserable wages. With these challenges, as I reasoned in that intervention, our young professionals now pose the same question popularized by the four Biblical lepers in 2 Kings, chapter 7, verses 3 and 4: "Why are we sitting here until we die?"
For these compatriots, the most preferred destination is Canada, essentially due to its easy path to citizenship. Canada, by the way, supported--both in cash and kind--the efforts of civil society groups like the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) to confront the tyranny of the late General Sani Abacha in the nineties. So, the country has always been friendly towards Nigeria. The main attraction of course is that obtaining Canadian citizenship provides access to job opportunities. More crucially, their law allows for multiple citizenship so you are not required to renounce your Nigerian root in the process. Besides, a Canadian Passport also enables citizens to travel to many countries without having to obtain a visa.
With an estimated population of 37,742,154 people and a density of four persons per square kilometre (given its 9,093,507 square kilometre land size), Canada is always going to need more people. To underscore that need, the United States has a population density of 36 persons per square kilometre, which means a Canadian has nine times the size of land available to an American! But Canada has approached immigration in a strategic manner by attracting the best around the world, regardless of colour or creed.
Meanwhile, it is a legitimate aspiration for our young citizens to seek better prospects abroad. But I am concerned about a growing trend on social media. The moment someone secures their papers to emigrate, they will denigrate, abuse and curse Nigeria before they depart or after they get to their 'promised land'. It is not a wise thing to do. I made this point in my September 2017 lecture at BAZE University, Abuja on 'Leadership and Responsibility in the Age of Social Media', where I warned the audience to be well aware that the things they document in a moment of exuberance or anger could come back to haunt them. And I cited two examples from my experience as presidential spokesman to make the point. So, to our young citizens, please explore possibilities to seek greener pastures abroad. But don't throw darts at the country of your birth on your way out.
'Nigeria is a useless country' is a standard refrain. Some of our young citizens who emigrate have perfected the art of detaching themselves from the nation as a shared patrimony. Yet regardless of whatever may be their frustrations with Nigeria, critical stakeholders should take responsibility for lost opportunities and the challenge of national retrieval. That of course requires leadership and political will. Unfortunately, this tragic gap has bedeviled our nation repeatedly for more than six decades. Even at that, we can look at the emigration drove in different ways.
Nigeria has one of the most educated and enterprising Diaspora populations across the world. At home, we have a population of young people. Not only are many countries in Asia and Europe ageing, some are also now declining in numbers. In the year just ended, for instance, South Korea recorded more deaths than births for the first time in their history. In 2020, only 275,800 babies were born while 307,764 persons died. At some point, these countries would have labour shortages and might seek migrants. Only the prepared in terms of quality education will be able to take advantage of such opportunities when they eventually come. The real problem is that we are breeding liabilities, not assets, since the majority of our young population are lacking in education or basic skills. It is worse in the northern parts of the country where bandits, Boko Haram and other criminal networks have combined to make schools unsafe for children, thus effectively mortgaging their future.
At all levels, and in practically all sectors, we are running a system that is rigged against our young people. Some universities are yet to complete the 2018/2019 academic session! On Monday, Bayero University, Kano (BUK) officially announced the cancellation of the 2019/2020 academic session. Others may not want to admit it but there is hardly any federal university in Nigeria today that has not lost at least an academic calendar to recent ASUU strikes. But no matter the frustration with the system, resentment against the government should never translate into hate for one's country. Our young people must begin to differentiate between Nigeria and the government in power, even though I also understand the trigger. At every epoch, public officials and their supporters have behaved as though they have a monopoly on patriotism. They will defend Nigeria--which they equate to the government they serve or support--until the baton changes hands and then they also begin to disparage the same country they once opportunistically defended. In essence, Nigeria has always been the scapegoat for the failings of its leaders.
While I am not advocating that we blind ourselves to our problems, it is important to recognise that Nigeria is more than the physical space. Besides, the country many of our young citizens are emigrating to were built by people. To that extent, the pent-up anger and negative energy being unleashed against the same Nigeria that must have provided them (or their parents) some ladder in terms of the opportunity to properly emigrate is not right. And nobody should write off Nigeria. We may be down today; we are certainly not out. Our incredible array of talent in different fields still abounds. Despite our challenges, many will still choose to stay.
I have a story with which I constantly 'harass' my wife. In 1995, while we were still courting and I was an assistant editor at the Sunday Concord, she brought me an American Diversity Lottery form for us to fill as a way we might migrate to the United States if successful. More out of pride than any serious conviction, I told her to forget me in such an arrangement. To counter her disappointment, I said: "A time will come when you will not have to go to their embassy before you secure the Visa to any country of your choice." She replied: "Enu e ti po ju (you fanatise a lot)," and we laughed over it. As it turned out, for her first trip to the United States in 2003 (at a period I was editor of Sunday THISDAY), the only thing that took her to the American embassy was her finger print. The then Public Affairs Officer (PAO) at what was called United States Information Service (USIS) at the time--now Public Affairs Section of US Consulate General--in Lagos, Dr Atim Enaida George (currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Black Studies Research, University of California at Santa Barbara) gave my wife a 'Referral Letter'. For all her other trips since then, she has outsourced the responsibility of obtaining her visa to me. And with that, I have also had to keep reminding her of my 1995 'prophetic declaration'!
But I could take that calculated gamble 26 years ago because the fundamentals of our country were still strong. Our estimated population was 107 million, the national security situation was relatively okay (without insurgents, bandits and kidnappers terrorising our lives) and graduates were still getting jobs. Although we also had economic challenges at the time, most were attributed to military rule with the expectation that once we ushered in the democracy we were fighting for, our fortunes would change. Sadly, things have not turned out that way. Now, were the offer of the American Diversity Lottery form made today and I was a struggling journalist at age 29, not only would I jump at it, I would probably be exploring opportunities to emigrate to other countries as well. This is the point we should never miss in this conversation.
Globalization has created a generation of virtual citizens. Attachment to nation space and cultural roots now counts for less than material fulfillment. Young Nigerians who emigrate to more prosperous countries where they are guaranteed basic livelihoods and their children can access good education do not necessarily love Nigeria any less. But they are full of anger and disappointment with successive governments that continue to betray the hopes of our people. That is the challenge at hand. It is hard to wean back the loyalty and patriotism of youth who leave injured by the betrayal of a nation they call theirs but which fails to provide them a fighting chance to prove themselves or justify their skills and training.
All factors considered, the task of repossessing the souls of our new Diaspora citizens is still one of responsible and accountable governance. It is therefore in the enlightened self-interest of critical stakeholders in both the private and public sectors to begin to change the current narrative by making the country work for all Nigerians rather than just a privileged few. To our young citizens who seek greener pastures abroad, my admonition remains the same: Emigrate if you must. But never give up on Nigeria.
Of DNA and Coronawahala!
At a period the second wave of a dangerous pandemic is ravaging our country, what concerns many of our men is not their Covid-19 status but the DNA results of other people's children. I understand that in Lagos, laboratories that conduct DNA tests now have more customers than those that test for Covid-19 which many still doubt. Someone even told me yesterday that some National Assembly members are already drafting a bill that will compel all children in Nigeria below the age of 18 to undertake a mandatory DNA test to determine their paternity. And in a nation where the responsibility for border patrol is now left for God, one should not be surprised if the 'authentic' fathers of some of these children happen to reside somewhere in Niger Republic!
While I wait for Reuben Abati to delve into this matrimonial crinkum-crankum (I learnt that word from Hon Patrick Obahiagbon) in the way only he can, I find it hard to believe that despite the glaring evidence of how Covid-19 has been taking lives, including of prominent personalities, many still believe that this pandemic is a hoax. It doesn't help that some of our respected clerics are fueling this cynicism by encouraging their followers to shun protocols like wearing mask and keeping social distance. Yesterday, the Chief Medical Director (CMD) of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Prof. Chris Bode, warned about how the resurgence of COVID-19, "through the newly mutated form, is ravaging our land, claiming many lives," adding that "unlike what we witnessed in the first wave, this one is even more easily transmitted and deadlier too."
As I wrote in my column, 'Gunman, COVID-19 and My Family' two weeks ago, Covid-19 is very much real. But for those who still argue otherwise, I have a simple prayer for them: May experience not be their best teacher!
France Reimposes Visa Requirement for Transit Travellers to UK - SCHENGEN NEWS
Authorities in France have decided to relaunch the Airport Transit Visa (ATV) requirement for citizens of some countries who hold a British long-stay visa or residence permit and transit through France in order to reach the United Kingdom.
The changes have been revealed by Air France-KLM, which has pointed out in an announcement that citizens of certain countries in Africa, Asia, and America will be required to have an ATV and their UK visas to transit through France SchengenVisaInfo.com reports.
According to the announcement, citizens of the following countries will be included in Franceâ€™s recent decision;
Africa: Cameroon, Angola, Central Africa Republic, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, South Sudan.
Asia: Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Philippines, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Russia, and Sri Lanka.
Caribbean & South America: Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The latest decision has also been confirmed on Franceâ€™s official website, through a statement which states that European rights will no longer be valid within the United Kingdom, post-Brexit.
â€œThe regulations governing UK citizensâ€™ movements and their family members will change from that date onwards. The regulations governing the movements of some third countries nationals residing in the UK will also change from that date onwards,â€ the statement reads.
In November, Franceâ€™s Home Secretary, Gerald Darmanin, and the United Kingdomâ€™s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, discussed cooperation between them to fight illegal immigration at their shared border.
During the meeting held back then, they agreed that illegal border crossing issue at their shared border should be addressed with determination.
According to the data published previously by the French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, the number of British nationals residing in France, in 2016 was at 148,300, a third of which were retirees (53,000).
A previous study conducted by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Eurostat stressed that there was marked a considerable increase in British nationals emigrating to the European Union since Britain left the block on January 31, 2019.
Japan has most powerful passport - but itâ€™s meaningless during Covid - INDEPENDENT UK
BY Qin Xie
The most powerful passports in the world have been named and Japan has taken the top spot for the third consecutive year.
The list has been created by the Henley Passport Index (HPI) using data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), with rankings determined by the number of countries a nationâ€™s passport holder can travel to without needing a visa.
Without factoring in coronavirus travel restrictions, Japanese citizens are currently able to travel to 191 countries visa-free. Itâ€™s followed closely by Singapore, whose citizens are able to travel to 190 countries.
Coming in joint third place are Germany and South Korea, both offering citizens visa-free travel to 189 countries.
The rest of the top 10 is made up of nations in Europe, as well as New Zealand, Australia, the US and Canada.
According to HPI, the increasing number of Asia Pacific countries in the rankings â€œis a relatively new phenomenonâ€ as the list has traditionally been dominated by EU countries as well as the UK and the US.
Some experts believe that this trend will continue as the same countries are also among the first to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
The index also highlighted the extreme effects of the pandemic, rendering much of the ranking meaningless.
For example, while ordinarily UK passport holders are able to travel to 185 countries visa free, this is currently fewer than 70 with many borders around the world still closed.
Dr. Christian H. Kaelin, creator of the index, said: â€œJust a year ago all indications were that the rates of global mobility would continue to rise, that travel freedom would increase, and that holders of powerful passports would enjoy more access than ever before.
â€œThe global lockdown negated these glowing projections, and as restrictions begin to lift, the results from the latest index are a reminder of what passport power really means in a world upended by the pandemic.â€
The top 10 most powerful passports
Germany, South Korea (189)
Finland, Italy, Luxembourg, Spain (188)
Austria, Denmark (187)
France, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden (186)
Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United States (185)
Australia, Czech Republic, Greece, Malta (184)
The top 10 least powerful passports
Somalia, Yemen (33)
Palestinian Territory (37)
Libya, Nepal (38)
North Korea (39)
Kosovo, Lebanon, Sudan (40)
Bangladesh, Iran (41)
Britons forced to sleep at airport after being denied entry into Sweden - INDEPENDENT UK
British nationals who live in Sweden were forced to spend the night in Gothenburg airport after initially being denied entry to the country.
As of 1 January, the only Britons allowed into Sweden are those who have an urgent reason to enter the country, such as family commitments, or those who reside there, until at least 21 January.
All British travellers must produce a negative PCR Covid result from a test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival into Sweden.
However, several Brits who reside in Sweden have reported being barred from entry after arriving on a flight from Manchester on 3 January, despite having negative test results.
â€œWhen we landed in Gothenburg, all Swedish people were allowed to get off, but British people were told to remain seated,â€ Gina Smart, a teacher who lives in Sweden, told The Local.
â€œThen the police came onto the plane and everyone had to show a negative Covid test.â€
Smart provided her test result, but was told the lab sheâ€™d used was not on Swedenâ€™s list of â€œauthorisedâ€ providers.
She wasnâ€™t the only one denied entry to Sweden, but while some agreed to be flown straight back to Manchester the same day, Smart refused to return.
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Along with four others, Smart says she was ushered into a room at the airport, where the group were given blankets and microwave meals and forced to spend the night on chairs.
She called the treatment â€œdiabolicalâ€, saying they had to ask permission to go outside and were given no access to showers.
â€œThey're not telling us what's happening,â€ she said. â€œIt feels like a psychological experiment. I feel like a criminal and we're not.â€
Eventually, at 10pm on 4 January, Smart was told her test result had been accepted and she was permitted entry into the country.
The Independent has contacted Landvetter Airport in Gothenburg for comment.
Another passenger on the same flight, Jason Ryan, returned on the flight to Manchester despite having a negative NHS PCR test.
He said he had been threatened with arrest if he did not comply, and described the experience as â€œemotionally drainingâ€.
British ambassador to Sweden Judith Gough said she was â€œconcernedâ€ upon hearing about British citizens who reside in Sweden being turned away at the border.
â€The British Embassy in Stockholm has been in regular contact with the relevant Swedish authorities over the last week and requested that any measures be clear, well-communicated and appropriate,â€ she said.
â€œIt is clear that there have been teething problems with the new system over the weekend, and we are asking the Swedish authorities to provide greater clarity and consistency for UK nationals, who wish to return home to Sweden.â€œ
The Foreign Office has advised that travellers to Sweden from the UK who are exempt from the entry ban will have to show a negative Covid-19 test â€œfrom an authorised providerâ€. It has now provided a list of approved testing facilities.
Travellers must show negative Covid test to enter UK - THE TIMES
International arrivals to Britain will have to present a negative coronavirus test as the government tries keep out new strains of the virus.
Passengers will be required to show a negative result obtained no more than 72 hours before departure, although measures could be even tighter and include a second test on arrival. Hauliers will be exempt from the restriction.
At present arrivals are required only to complete a passenger locator form and undergo quarantine if arriving from a country not on the governmentâ€™s â€œtravel corridorâ€ list.
Senior Conservative MPs had demanded immediate action to prevent further importation of new strains such as that identified in South Africa.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said that he was â€œincredibly worriedâ€ about the variant yesterday, describing it as a â€œvery, very significant problemâ€.
Britain banned direct flights from South Africa just before Christmas and required new arrivals to undergo a stricter form of quarantine.
Those travelling from the country indirectly, however, had not been required to prove they did not have the coronavirus before entering the UK.
Neil Oâ€™Brien, the Conservative MP for Harborough who leads Boris Johnsonâ€™s policy board, suggested that South Koreaâ€™s strict arrangements offered an example the UK could follow. Procedures need to â€œtoughen up at the borderâ€, he tweeted.
Senior aviation sources said the government had planned to â€œrevisitâ€ this month the rules on international arrivals but that recent events, including the new South African variant, had prompted â€œa hastening in the introduction of measuresâ€.
The requirement for a negative test to be taken no more than 72 hours before arrival has been adopted by many countries, including Greece, France and Germany. The strictest countries insist on a test being taken before departure plus a test on arrival and mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days.
The issue of border controls has in the past divided Priti Patel, the home secretary, and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, with Ms Patel pushing for greater restrictions on entry for those travelling from high-risk areas.
A former Downing Street official said that Mr Shapps had prevailed after being lobbied by the airline industry for a lighter touch regime. A Whitehall source said that the advent of new variants had put border measures â€œfirmly back on the tableâ€.
Some experts have suggested that the South African variant is already likely to be present in Britain and may be harder to detect than the Kent strain.
Covid: UK travel curbs to keep out South Africa variant - BBC
Travellers from countries near South Africa are to be banned from entering England to stop the spread of the South African Covid variant.
Arrivals from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, Botswana, as well as island nations Mauritius and Seychelles, will be affected.
The rule will take effect on 9 January but there will be an exemption for British and Irish nationals.
They will need to follow existing quarantine procedures.
A ban by visitors to the UK from South Africa started on 24 December.
The latest restriction brought in by the Department for Transport also affects travellers arriving from Eswatini, Zambia, Malawi, Lesotho and Mozambique.
It will apply from 04:00 GMT on Saturday to people who have travelled from or through any of the specified countries in the last 10 days.
It is understood most flights from the affected countries arrive at airports in England, although it is expected the policy will be formally adopted by the other UK nations.The measures will be in place for an initial period of two weeks.
Meanwhile, Botswana, and the islands of Seychelles and Mauritius, are being removed from the UK list of safe travel corridors as there is a high frequency of travel between the islands and South Africa.The new variant of coronavirus circulating in South Africa is already being seen in other countries, including the UK.
The variant, much like the new UK variant first seen in Kent, appears to be more contagious than previous ones.
Anyone arriving into the UK from most destinations must quarantine for 10 days.
But there are a list of countries exempt from the rules, meaning returning travellers do not need to self-isolate, called the travel corridor list.
Under the latest announcement, the travel corridor with Israel will also end amid concerns about rising infection levels in that country.
However, rules in place across the UK currently ban travel abroad unless for specific reasons.