Airlifting of Nigerians stranded abroad will start next week, the Federal Government confirmed on Monday.
Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, who dropped the hint at the daily briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 Control in Abuja, said two airlines have agreed to bring back the citizens at affordable rates.
More than 2000 Nigerians, many of whom were stranded in different parts of the world following the lockdown triggered the coronavirus pandemic, have indicated interests to return home.
Speaking on the evacuation process, Onyeama said they would be brought back in batches of 200 and be made to stay in seclusion for 14 days in isolation centres prepared for returnees.
Onyeama 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 are 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.”
He also explained that the decision to have them return in batches was as a result of insufficient beds at the isolation centres.
According to a document obtained by The Nation, some highlights of the prospective returnees from 75 countries are as follows: United Kingdom (466); United Arab Emirate (253); China (229); U.S. (163); Turkey (160); Egypt (115); India (92); Malaysia (84) and Cyprus (72).
Others include Indonesia (35); Cameroon (20); Germany (10); Italy (eight); Australia (six); France (three); Jordan (13); Ghana (32); Ukraine (15); Saudi Arabia (35); South Africa (39); Sudan (18); Pakistan (14); Oman (five); Philippines (three); Poland (three) and Qatar (four), among others.
The minister, however, assured that adequate arrangements were being made for the evacuation and quarantine of the returnees.
He said: “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.
“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.”