Nigeria to lift ban on interstate travels after weeks of COVID-19 restrictions

Abandoned street in Lagos, Nigeria REUTERS PHOTO

The Nigerian government on Monday said it would lift the ban on interstate movements across the country mid-week after weeks of restriction to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 25,000 people in the country.

This decision, approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, came as the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC) late Monday confirmed 566 new cases in 19 states and the capital city of Abuja, bringing the national tally to 25,133, with 573 deaths and 9,402 recoveries.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha told reporters on Monday that movement across state boundaries could now take effect from Wednesday, with the current nationwide curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. remaining.

According to Mustapha, who chairs the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Nigerian president also approved “the safe reopening of domestic aviation services as soon as practicable and publication of revised guidelines around the three thematic areas of general movement, industry, labor and community activities.”

On Saturday, the government embarked on a dry run of the Abuja-Lagos aviation route, saying the airport was 90 percent ready for operation with full compliance to COVID-19 guidelines.

The Nigerian government shut down the airports for commercial flight operations on March 23, as part of the measures to curb the pandemic. The government had considered reopening the airports twice but ended up with wider consultations.

The wearing of masks, Mustapha said, remains mandatory when accessing government premises and other public places.

The Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN) hailed the government’s decision to lift the ban on interstate movement across the country, reopen the airspace for domestic travels, and reopen schools, describing it as a “welcome development.”

Olayinka Onikijipa, chairman of the RTEAN in the north-central state of Kwara, told Xinhua that his association has formulated its own sets of guidelines in accordance with the government directives, including arranging infrared thermometers at all motor stations to check passenger temperatures before they board vehicles.

“We have also told all our members to have alcohol-based hand sanitizers in their cars and all passengers and drivers must make use of masks. We are also going to ensure physical and social distancing in our vehicles and motor parks,” Onikijipa said.

Nigeria recorded its first case of COVID-19 in Lagos, its commercial hub, on Feb. 27.