Returnees to pay for their isolation because we don’t have fund to do that, says minister

Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, has justified the demand for payment for feeding and accommodation at isolation centres from prospective evacuees before they could be qualified for flights that would bring them to Nigeria.

A memo addressed to prospective evacuees “Need to pay for Quarantine, Isolation, accommodation centre or hotels before Departure and Arrival in Nigeria,” dated May 14, 2020 asked them to pay the total sum of N297,600 before they could be airlifted.

The memo gave the breakdown of the cost as N240,000 and N57,000 for accommodation and feeding respectively for the 14-day mandatory isolation as prescribed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

Speaking on Friday at the weekly briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Onyeama said his ministry seized the initiative to compel stranded Nigerians to pay the sum because of lack of fund to take care of them at isolation centres back home.

He said the medical infrastructure in the country were already overstretched considering the sum being spent on COVID-19 tests.

“There has been quite a lot in social media especially after the recent directives that we communicated to our missions indicating a certain amount of money that anybody who wanted to be evacuated back to the country needed to pay and it wasn’t just for their air ticket but also their accommodation for two weeks and two days and the cost of feeding.

“Now this isn’t by any stretch of imagination something that the government is happy to do. As I mentioned, if the resources were there, we will evacuate everybody and if our medical infrastructure were solid and our case was much lower, we could look at other ways of revisiting our protocol.

“But the way things are, at the moment, the fragility of our health infrastructure, the trajectory of the increasing number of positive tests being what they are, we have to take the greatest care with regard to the protocol we adopt with people coming home.

“So, it has been decided after long discussion and evaluation by the best medical minds we have that it is best for us for the interest of the country that there should be a period of quarantine when any of our evacuees comes home.

“There is a lot of uproar as a result of the cost we prepared for those willing to come back but as I said, the resources aren’t there. But we are still looking for resources all over the place but knowing that time is of the essence for the people, they have to come back.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister said every reasonable options were considered to save cost, including the use of NYSC camps as isolation centres but he revealed that the medical team in the PTF kicked against it.



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