Worried by the number of Omicron variant cases attributed to Nigerians overseas, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has levied a $3,500 (N1.43 million) penalty on foreign carriers for each passenger that violates any of the guidelines.

The apex regulator, in a letter to operators, also warned that repeated violations might be liable to a ban.

The government had earlier readjusted the travel protocol, with an additional Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test imposed on inbound travellers as part of measures to contain the new Omicron variant.

The Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 directed that passengers arriving in Nigeria are now required to conduct a PCR test 48 hours before embarking on their trips, take another test on day two after arrival and another on day seven. They are also expected to self-isolate for seven days.

Director-General of the NCAA, Capt. Musa Nuhu, stated that the sanction was to ensure strict compliance with the revised COVID-19 provisional quarantine protocols for inbound and outbound travellers.

“For inbound passengers, airlines are only to board passengers travelling to Nigeria, who are in possession of a paid permit to travel with a QR Code and a result of a negative COVID-19 PCR test done not later than 48 hours from time of boarding,” Nuhu stated.

He added that any inbound passenger, who is unable to either make payment for his/her repeat PCR test(s) or generate a paid permit to travel via the Nigeria International Travel Portal (NITP), airlines are to send an email to appropriate authorities for necessary assistance.

“For outbound passengers, airlines are to only board passengers travelling out of Nigeria with evidence of either full vaccination for COVID-19 or result of negative COVID-19 PCR test done at the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) accredited private laboratories not later than 48hours from time of boarding.

“Non-compliance to these pre-boarding requirements by any airline will attract a penalty of $3,500 per passenger. Airlines who consistently fail to comply with these requirements may be banned from coming to Nigeria,” the memo read in part.

The British government recently banned Nigerian citizens from entering the United Kingdom. UK’s Secretary of State for Health, Sajid Javid, announced that Nigeria was added to the red list as part of measures to stem importation of the Omicron variant into the country.

As at Sunday, the UK announced that a total of 21 Nigerian outbound passengers had tested positive for the Omicron variant.

Secretary-General of the Aviation Round Table Initiative (ASRTI), Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said Nigerian travellers testing positive in the UK should worry Nigerian regulators more.

Ojikutu, who had earlier called for reciprocity of the restriction order, said an emerging concern was that the world is no longer accepting the validity of tests coming from Nigeria.

“When 27 that had negative test results from Nigeria tested positive for Omicron out of 167 in the UK, then something is not right.

“These are results you get from uncontrolled multiple centres as against what you should get from multiple organisations but unitary control centres. This is similar to what we see in the war against Boko Haram and the security at our airports. Every agency to itself and no central control. Who verifies what each authorised testing centre has done before it becomes the state standard? This has been going on for months. Who will save us from ourselves?” Ojikutu queried.