The Federal Government will next week commence the evacuation of Nigerians stranded abroad on account of the coronavirus pandemic.
It said two airlines had agreed to bring back the citizens at affordable rates.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, who disclosed this during a briefing by the Presidential TaskForce on COVID-19 in Abuja on Monday, noted that the nationals would be brought back in batches of 200.
Over 2,000 Nigerians in United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, China and other countries had registered for the evacuation after agreeing to subject themselves to mandatory coronavirus testing and 14-day quarantine on arrival in Abuja or Lagos.
The minister stated that the government has been working to put in place adequate isolation centres to accommodate the returnees on arrival in the country.
He said, “We have just signed and agreed with two airlines, we negotiated what we feel is very good rates. Since the evacuees are expected to pay, we wanted to get as good a deal as possible. Now, that’s done.
“The next challenge is accommodation; everything has to be absolutely ready. We actually determined when we start that everything should go very smoothly and so, we really want to take all the necessary steps to ensure that would be the case.”
Onyeama further explained that government was challenged by insufficient beds at the isolation facilities, hence the decision to fly in 200 persons at a time, adding that the arrangements were being tidied up for the evacuation and quarantine of the returnees.
He noted, “We are looking at 200 evacuees we can accommodate at a time. Since they are going to be there for two weeks, it means we have to bring 200 back for a period of 14 days before we can bring in another 200 both Abuja and for Lagos. We also have to look at the cities.
“The most important part at this stage is to secure the planes to bring them back and we have now done that. So, hopefully, if we can tie up the other loose ends, we hope to start maybe towards the end of next week.”
The minister observed the concern by Nigerians about the possibility of infection importation by the returnees, adding that the government was putting in place mechanisms to monitor the symptoms that may be displayed by the evacuees.
He said, “We have to put all the precautions we can to minimize that kind of incident, having mechanisms to see what kind of symptoms that are displayed by the intending passengers. We’ll now choose which countries we want to start with.”