U.S. Tells Citizens to Leave India as Covid-19 Swamps Hospitals - BLOOMBERG
BY Angus Whitley
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. government told its citizens to leave India as soon as possible because of the country’s escalating Covid-19 crisis.
In a Level 4 travel advisory --- the highest issued by the Department of State -- U.S. citizens were told “not to travel to India or to leave as soon as it is safe to do so.” There are 14 direct daily flights between India and the U.S. and other services that connect through Europe, the department said.
Indian authorities and hospitals are struggling to cope with record Covid-19 infections and deaths. Official data on Wednesday showed new infections rose by 360,960 in the prior 24 hours, while 3,293 additional lives were lost -- both a record for the country. India has the world’s fastest-growing caseload.
Australia earlier this week banned all flights from India to relieve pressure on the nation’s system of mainly quarantining returned residents from overseas in inner-city hotels, after a jump in infections. The U.K. has barred any visitor who’s been in India in the previous 10 days from entering. British and Irish nationals arriving in England from India must quarantine in a hotel.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city will re-open 100% on July 1 - CNBC
New York City will reopen in full capacity starting July 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
“Our plan is to fully reopen on July 1. We are ready for stores to open, for businesses to open, offices, theaters, full strength,” de Blasio said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.
: Nigeria out of World Relays as US embassy denies athletes visas - PUNCH
BY Sodiq Oyeleke
The Athletics Federation of Nigeria has announced that athletes from the country will not be participating in the World Athletics relays billed to start from May 1 to 2, 2021 in Poland.
AFN’s factional president, Ibrahim Shehu-Gusau, said this in a statement on Thursday, titled, ‘Sports ministry scuttles Nigeria’s World Relays participation’.
But John Akanji, media aide to the sports minister, Sunday Dare, denied claims that the sports ministry scuttled Nigeria’s participation.
Akanji, who said Shehu-Gusau is not the recognised AFN president, confirmed the development, saying, “the athletes were denied visas by the US embassy.”
A leadership crisis is currently rocking the Nigerian athletics body with the sports ministry backing a faction headed by one Olamide George.
The statement by the Shehu Gusau-led AFN read, “Nigeria will not participate in the World Relays because the Ministry of Youth and Sports opted to take the athletes to a training tour in the United States for the same relays, they are yet to qualify for, instead of a pre- Olympic Games qualification in Poland.
“The information at our disposal is that athletes who were supposed to represent Nigeria at the World Athletics Relays in Silesia, Poland were taken to the USA Embassy to obtain visas for a training tour of an event they were yet to qualify for.
“The scheduled relays in Poland were meant to enable Nigeria to secure qualification for the Olympic Games in Tokyo but to our disbelief, the athletes’ passports were diverted to the USA Embassy to secure visas for a training camp for an event they are yet to qualify for. How can a qualification competition in Poland which was our best bet be ignored for a training camp in
“This is one of the numerous reasons why sports in Nigeria should be allowed to be administered according to international best practices.”
Reps give immigration 72 hours to clear backlog of passport booklets - THE CABLE
The house of representatives has given the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) 72 hours to clear its backlog of applications for passport booklets.
At the plenary session on Thursday, the green chamber also asked the federal ministry of interior to review its agreement with the passport printing company to boost the production of the booklets.
The resolutions followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by Ugonna Ozurigbo from Imo state.
Many Nigerians have been lamenting their inability to renew their passports or get a new one because the booklets are scarce.
Although the NIS had said the booklets are now available, TheCable understands some are still experiencing challenges and getting theirs both within and outside the country.
As the delay lingers, the common excuse at the various NIS offices and centres is that there is still a backlog of applications to be cleared.
Leading the debate on the motion, Ozurigbo said the long wait for the international passport has brought “untold hardship on Nigerians with urgent needs to travel out of the country.”
“Nigerians who are on medical referrals outside the country are developing needless health complications while waiting for their passports to be issued while those on urgent business trips have missed rewarding opportunities due to the unavailability of passport booklets to enable them to travel,” he said.
Ozurigbo also said the scarcity is “breeding a class of passport racketeers who extort innocent citizens with the promise to assist.”
In adopting the motion, the house also mandated its committees on interior and foreign affairs to ensure compliance and report back within four weeks.
COVID-19: No direct flight with India, says NCAA - PUNCH
BY Juliana Ajayi
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has assured Nigerians that the government will take every necessary action to protect the citizens from COVID-19.
Speaking with our correspondent on Thursday, General Manager, Public Relations, NCAA, Mr Samuel Adurogboye, said India which had recently turned the hotbed for COVID-19 did not pose a threat to Nigerians.
He said at the moment, there was no direct flight between Nigeria and India.
However, if there was a need to ban flights and passengers who had contacts with India over COVID-19, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 would give directive, Adurogboye said.
Belgium, Canada, France, Italy, Kuwait, Iran, the United Kingdom, the United States, and of recent, Kenya had joined other countries in suspending flights from India.
He said, “Nigeria is doing more than any country in the world.
“We are the first country to send out some circulars on the management of Covid-19.’’
The John Hopkins University data showed that there were over 18 million cases of in India and over 250,000 deaths from COVID-19.
There are over 135 companies in Nigeria owned by the Indians or persons of Indian heritage in Nigeria.
Air India, a prominent airline in India, with over 70 international flights, through its social media platform, has encouraged passengers to stay indoors, and stay safe
US mission to prioritise student visa applications for Nigerians - THE CABLE
by Chinedu Asadu
The United States mission in Nigeria has announced that it will prioritise applications for student visas and plan interview appointments “well in advance” of school resumption.
Susan Tuller, US mission country consular coordinator, also said on Friday that the mission “will make every effort to assist student visa applicants in a timely fashion while keeping personnel and customers safe.”
The lockdown introduced to slow the spread of the coronavirus had hindered the US embassy in Abuja and the consulate general in Lagos from processing visa applications.
However, with the next round of school resumption in September, Tuller said efforts are in place to ensure that Nigerians travelling for studies are not stranded regarding their application for visa.
A statement from the mission explained why this is priority for the US: Nigeria sends more students to American colleges and universities than any other country in Africa and is the eleventh largest worldwide source of international students to the country.
Tuller was quoted her as saying: “As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our staff and customers, processing student visas remains a high priority for the U.S. Mission in Nigeria.
“We will increase the number of student visa appointments in May and June to ensure that we can offer appointments to as many students as possible. If your U.S. studies are scheduled to begin this Fall, we encourage you to schedule your appointment as quickly as possible.”
The consular coordinator explained that all student visa appointments must be booked through the specified US travel website.
She also warned applicants against the use of third-party services, including touts, and fixers who broker visa appointments.
“Both Nigeria and the United States benefit when Nigerian students study at one of our world-class educational institutions,” she added.
“To prepare for your U.S. educational opportunity, we encourage you to check out Education USA Advising Centers at our American Spaces in Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, and Calabar, or at educationUSA.state.gov.”
In the 2019-2020 academic year, a record-breaking number of nearly 14,000 Nigerians were said to have pursued graduate and undergraduate degrees in the US.
Nigerian teen gets 19 scholarship offers worth $5m in US, Canada - THE NATION
By Ekaete Bassey with agency reports
Nigeria’s Victory Yinka-Banjo, a 17-year-old high school graduate, was offered more than $5 million worth of scholarship money for an undergraduate program of study, according to admission documents and estimates of financial aid awards.
“It still feels pretty unbelievable. I applied to so many schools because I didn’t even think any school would accept me,” Victory told CNN, relishing her academic prowess.
Born to Nigerian parents, Chika Yinka-Banjo, a senior lecturer at the University of Lagos and Adeyinka Banjo, procurement and supply chain executive, Victory was given potential full scholarships from the Ivy League schools, Yale College, Princeton University, Harvard College, and Brown University.
Other US scholarship offers included those from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Stanford University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia.
In Canada, Victory was offered the Lester B. Pearson scholarship from the University of Toronto and the Karen McKellin International Leader of Tomorrow (KMILOT) scholarship from the University of British Columbia.
“Their admissions processes are extremely selective,” Victory added.
“They only accept the best of the best. So, you can imagine how, on a daily basis, I have to remind myself that I actually got into these schools. It is surreal!”
A senior prefect during her time in high school, Victory rose to national prominence in late 2020 after she scored straight As in her West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
Months earlier, the Nigerian teen had been rated as the “Top in the World” in English as a second language (speaking endorsement) by the University of Cambridge International Examination (CIE).
Victory aced the Cambridge IGCSE exam acquiring A in all six subjects she sat for.
Victory told CNN her remarkable achievements are borne out of hard work.
The teenager remarked that her multiple scholarship offers have made her stand taller, smile wider, and pat herself on the back more often.
Why Nigerian Passport is Scarce - THISDAY
Chinedu Eze traces the root cause of the protracted passport scarcity in the country
The protests and petitions have been deafening over the failure of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) to promptly issue passports to Nigerians who have applied and paid for them. At the Federal Capital Territory and in Lagos, there are many applicants who have waited for months for the passport, which they had applied and paid for and had also, been captured in the data base, but they could not obtain their passports because there are no booklets.
In 2019, the Nigerian Immigration Service introduced the enhanced e-passport as part of the new reforms by the federal government in the Ministry of Interior. These new passports are in two categories of 32-page for five years validity, 64-page five years validity, both of which are available for adults and minors and 64-page 10 years validity for adults who were above 18 years of age.
But since after the introduction of these enhanced e-passports there has been protracted scarcity of the 32-page booklets, especially in the nation’s busiest passport officer in Ikoyi; that many persons who ordinarily would have loved to request for 32-page passport booklets were forced to go for the 64-page, five years category, which is more costly.
But the situation is now exacerbated because both the 32-page and 64-page categories are scarce. A source told THISDAY how his son applied for the renewal of his passport in January, but three months later was yet to obtain the new passport. He said he requested for the 32-page category but was told that it was not available so he had to pay more for the 64-page category and was yet to get the passport.
It was the same situation with the mother of his colleague, a 70-year old woman who returned from Canada and requested for the renewal of her passport in February and be the end of April was yet to get the new passport.
“I requested a new passport for my son from the Abuja passport office on January 13, 2021 and since then till today I am yet to get the passport. We went for the 32-page passport but later they said it was not available so we paid for the 64-page passport but we have continued to wait till today. “I also have somebody who lives in Canada but returned to Nigeria and requested for the renewal of her passport since February, but she is yet to get it. She is about 70 years and the mother of a colleague, so I know.
“She applied for the 10 years passport category. But what is really most annoying about this is the fact that some people are getting these passports. I know two of my friends who have some connection who walked into passport office and collected their passport after few days. This means that the booklets may be available but not enough to go round,” he said.
THISDAY investigations revealed that the major reason why the passport booklets are scarce is because the producer of the passports, Irish Technologies is allegedly owed debts that run into millions of dollars by the Ministry of Interior.
The Nigerian passports are produced overseas, contrary to the belief that they are produced locally. The Ministry had a Public, Private Partnership (PPP) agreement with the foreign company, which produces the enhanced e-passport, but it has refused to supply the product due to the alleged huge debts.
THISDAY also learnt that Irish Technologies had met with the Ministry and requested that it should be given easy window to access forex directly from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which the Ministry was unable to facilitate, but rather was purported told to access forex through the parallel market, which the company said would be very expensive for it.
Burdened with huge debt profile and finding it difficult to obtain foreign exchange, Irish Technologies was thrown into a dilemma. It was this impasse that led to the current scarcity, which inside sources projected would last long; unless there was urgent intervention.
In addition to the above challenge, an official of NIS who preferred anonymity told THISDAY, “Our machines and general infrastructure for capturing and process of passports and other working materials have degenerated. The existing equipment is over worked and they face constant breakdown due to wear and tear. So it is expected that the Ministry will look into this.
“We need ministerial intervention because the Nigerian Immigration Services is a department in the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry endorsed the partnership,” the official told THISDAY.
THISDAY gathered that since last year there has been a spike in the demand of passports but many of those who have completed the requirements are yet to receive their passports so NIS faces piling demand which could reach choking level if Immigration continues to delay the issuance of completed passports.
Passport Office Ikoyi, Lagos records the highest passport demand in Nigeria with average demand of 15,000-20,000 monthly, while Festac and Alausa offices produce about 50 per cent of that figure of about 7,500 to 10, 000 passports monthly.
“In 2016, for example, Ikoyi office issued 145, 000 in one year, while Alausa and Festac issued 70, 000 per annum. Before the current leadership we have skilled and trained officers on the enhanced e-passport, but recently those officials have been replaced by other officers who are not trained and this has created hiccups in the process,” government official told THISDAY.
However, the federal government recently announced that henceforth, the timeline from when the application for a new passport is submitted to the time of issuance should not exceed six weeks. The Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who disclosed this in a meeting with the Comptroller General of Immigration, Mohammad Babandede, Passport Officers, and Attaches for Nigeria Missions abroad, said the Immigration Service would create special centres to fast track service delivery. The special centres, he explained would operate on Public-Private- Partnership basis.
He said a model centre had started operating in Abuja and10 others would be opened nationwide in few weeks’ time and each of the centres he explained would fix the timeline for each applicant to collect his/her passport but would not exceed six weeks.
Aregbesola said the federal government had resolved to be at par with what obtained in the best of climes, adding that the new timeline would allow enough time to investigate and validate personal information supplied by the applicants.
He however added that should there be any unforeseen occurrence that could cause delay, the Immigration officers would promptly notify the applicant at least one week before the collection date. The Interior Minister also said government intention was to reduce if not eliminate contact by the applicants with officers, adding that government arrangement was for applicants to fill the form and leave the venue and that would be all the physical contact except when picking the passport in six weeks’ time.
He acknowledged that the service had hitherto been bedeviled with challenges such as shortage of booklets, touting, racketeering, which had caused the increase in cost and had made it possible for people who were not qualified to obtain the passport to access them. The Immigration service also said it would soon publish the list of backlog of applications that have since been ready but their owners have not come to pick them. Aregbesola expressed the optimism that the new service delivery strategy would bring great relief to those renewing and applying for new international passports.
As stated earlier, some persons who spoke to THISDAY, alleged that there are booklets which senior officials use as bargaining chips for favours and for monetary reward, noting that, “some people will go there and come back with their new passport.” THISDAY learnt that in some passport offices in Lagos before an applicant’s file is treated he or she must pay N5, 000 in addition to the cost of the passport and when it is paid the applicant’s file is signed with green biro.
A source told THISDAY that this had been going since 2019 and despite outcry by applicants the trend has subsisted. “Your file cannot be treated unless you make that payment. It is only when you do so that your file is taken in and you are invited for capture. The N5, 000 is even small; those who want urgent passport can be made to pay any amount possible and you don’t have any other choice than to pay,” the source said.
New Passport Regime
But the Nigerian Immigration Service has introduced new passport application policy, which insisted that all current passport backlogs must be issued on or before May 31, 2021 and those with issues with their application would be contacted.
“Names of all those whose passport are ready and currently waiting for collection will be published in the dailies and they will be required to visit the Command Head Quarters in the state where they applied for collection. New passport application regime begins June 1, 2021. Passport application processing to collection has now been standardized to take a total of six weeks. Those who desire express service of 24hrs-72hrs waiting time, can visit any of the passport express centres,” statement from NIS said.
Immigration also said a zero-tolerance stance to all forms of touting has been declared, noting that no applicant would be made to pay any illegitimate fees. “Security operatives – seen and unseen – have been embedded in all passport offices. They will wear body cameras. They will detect and report any form of solicitations, inflation, improper communications, extortion, diversion, hoarding and other corrupt practices.
“Those caught will be dealt with according to the law. An ombudsman has been created for members of the public to receive complaints and reports on officers trying to deviate from prescribed guidelines and subversion of the process.
“Applicants will have no basis for further communication with officers, other than to complete their application process and leave the venue. The date for the collection of their passports or any challenge to the application will be communicated to them. The technology for the efficient running of this system has been acquired,” Immigration said.
The Public Relations Officer (PRO), Nigeria Immigration Service, Mr. Sunday James, urged applicants to follow due and recognised process of obtaining passports and not to patronise touts. “Ask those who are complaining of not being able to get their international passport out who they went through because at times, they go through touts. We have sent out circulars and write in the newspapers that people should apply online and when they have problems they should let us know.
“When they have problems with the area boys, they will now run to the media. It is a very shameful experience when they do this. We tell them not to go through a third party and if they go through a third party and the person is not in passport office, it is also a criminal act. Let them stop patronising people. Let the system work for itself. We have a systemic issue that works and not someone helping the people,” he said. However, the recent scarcity of passport booklets has been acknowledged by top officials of the Nigerian Immigration Service.
Local airlines to roll out common ticket under interline pact - THE GUARDIAN
By Wole Oyebade
Two local carriers have entered into a rare interlining arrangement that offers customers the benefit of the two airlines, using a single ticket. The Guardian learnt that the partnership is between Dana and Ibom Air, and is set to roll out in May.
The pact is the first time indigenous carriers have heeded aviation experts’ advice for competing airlines to interline, and make the most of available customers to cut operational wastage and losses.
An interline flight is an agreement between airlines to coordinate passengers with an itinerary that uses multiple airlines, without having to check in again or deal with their baggage at the stopover.
The Chief Operating Officer of Ibom Air, George Uriesi, yesterday, gave a hint on the partnership. Uriesi, who spoke at the quarterly meeting of the Aviation Safety Roundtable Initiative (ASRTI), with the theme ‘Utilising interlining and codeshare agreements as tools for domestic airlines profitability and passenger comfort’, said Ibom Air just finished a long process of interlining with some Nigerian airlines, ahead of mutually beneficial operations.
He described the country’s airline industry as competitive because of the proliferation of airlines for a small pool of market, which comes with lots of empty seats when aircraft doors are closed.
He said: “We are in the last phase of the interline project. By May, we shall launch. The challenge is to have partners who are organised and who meet up with the organisation of your company. Your workforce has to work together, sit together to look at your schedule, and integrate into your reservation system.”
The Director-General of NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, lauded “fresh start”, saying it would help airlines to maximise profit and make air travel to be enjoyable for passengers, and on the other hand, eliminate delay and flight cancellations.
“We are happy about this. Airlines are supposed to manage their business properly. These agreements are business decisions by airlines, to have several benefits both for the airlines and passengers. I don’t see why a country of 200 million people cannot have 30 million passengers. It is not encouraging.
“The airlines need the political will to work together. Nigeria has the market. We must put our resources and energy into this to bring it to fruition and not allow airlines like Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya to take advantage of our huge market,” Nuhu said.
President of ASRTI, Dr. Gbenga Olowo, in his opening remark lamented that airlines’ poor schedule integrity year-on-year has eroded the good performance of the carriers following passengers’ complaints of poor services offered by many of the airlines.
He said: “Poor on-time performance, depleting and inadequate fleet have led to many of the challenges of airlines. If we had interline arrangement, It would have helped to reduce the hardship faced by passengers who in most times are faced with long hours of delay and in some cases, cancellation of flights.”
Western Europe’s Vaccine Push Raises Hopes the Worst Is Over - BLOOMBERG
(Bloomberg) -- Western Europe is heading toward a critical phase in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic as accelerating vaccination rates open up the prospect of easing lockdowns and reviving economies.
Germany and Italy administered a record number of Covid-19 shots this week, and France is betting that faster immunizations will lead to a gradual return to normal life. Across the European Union, there’s growing optimism that the worst is over, even as authorities continue to fight a third wave.
“Vaccination moves fast,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Friday on France Info radio. “More and more of us are being protected. I do believe in this.”
Letting businesses reopen more broadly will juice economic growth, and data Friday showed how vital that is, revealing the euro area fell into a double-dip recession at the start of the year. The U.S., which is well ahead of Europe in vaccinating its people, posted a far stronger performance in the first quarter, helped by a surge in consumer spending.
Returning activity to more normal levels will also help save businesses, jobs and incomes that have been threatened by lockdowns. For those politicians facing elections -- like Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives in Germany -- that’s a vital metric to win back support of frustrated voters.
After earlier shortages, supplies of Covid-19 vaccines are now pouring in. Deliveries to the EU are expected to nearly quadruple to more than 400 million doses in the second quarter, led by the shot from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.
Vaccine production capacity doubled every month since January, EU Commissioner Thierry Breton, who’s leading efforts to ramp up production, told a German parliament committee on Thursday. He said that the EU would have enough doses to completely immunize 70% of adults by mid-July.
“The euro-zone economy hit the trough of the double-dip in February,” said Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg. As the vaccination rollout picks up pace, “we look for a strong bounce in activity from May onwards,” he said.
While hospitals remain dangerously full, there are signs the strains are easing. In Germany, the number of Covid patients in intensive care has declined for four straight days. Meanwhile, the country’s contagion rate is the lowest since mid-April, though it’s still well above a level that triggers stricter lockdown measures.
The European Commission has forecast 3.8% GDP growth in the euro area this year, a partial recovery from 2020’s record 6.6% contraction. But if the vaccination rollout keeps improving, it would give it grounds to raise projections when it updates them next month.
Still, the risks to vaccine campaigns were exposed by Sweden. On Friday, the Nordic country pushed back its vaccination target after pausing the use Johnson & Johnson’s shot beause of concerns about side effects.
Here’s a roundup of the key vaccine developments in Europe’s biggest economies:
Germany administered over 2 million doses in a two-day period this week. The surge was facilitated by an increase in supplies, which allowed inoculations to take place at private medical practices alongside state vaccination centers.
General practitioners administered a total of 730,000 doses on a record-setting Wednesday, when more than 1% of the population got a shot.
Merkel’s government is looking to drop regulations that determine who’s at the front of the queue by June, allowing all adults access to the shots. Nearly 27% of the population has had at least one.
Vaccinations in France have substantially accelerated as President Emmanuel Macron’s government reacts to intense public and political pressure.
Presidential elections are just a year away, and polls suggest a tight race between Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen -- who called the slow start to the inoculation effort a “vaccination Waterloo.”
The staged rollout, targeting the most vulnerable and oldest first, has fueled frustration across a population still under a partial lockdown and curfew. The government this week expanded vaccination eligibility to a wider group and will open it to all adults from June 15.
Around 22% of the population have received at least one shot, and Macron has pledged that all willing adults will be vaccinated by the end of the summer.
Italy administered almost 500,000 vaccine doses on Thursday, meeting a key target set by Prime Minister Mario Draghi to ease restrictions.
General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, Italy’s Covid emergency czar, on Thursday said that 60% of Italians will be fully vaccinated by mid-July, according to news agency Ansa.
Europe’s third-largest economy this week allowed outdoor dining and reopened museums and theaters as a first step of a gradual return toward normal life. More than 22% of the population has had at least one shot, according to Bloomberg’s coronavirus tracker.
Health Minister Carolina Darias has said that it expects 41.9 million shotsduring the second quarter, almost half of the supplies expected through the first nine months of this year.
The government aims to have vaccinated 70% of the population by late August. While the pace is still short of the government’s targets, it’s picked up in recent weeks, from just shy of 200,000 a day in late March to around 278,000, according to the latest seven-day rolling average. As of Thursday, 24% of the overall population had received at least one shot.