It was inevitable that the Nigerian government would eventually be forced to remove all travel restrictions and reopen interstate roads, airports and seaports. After all Nigeria is a country with nearly 200 million people, many of whom rely on travel as an integral part of their incomes. The Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) has released new guidelines to guide air travel in domestic airports in Nigeria and Arik Air has announced that it will begin domestic flights from July 8th, leading the charge for other local airlines who have haemorrhaged funding in the last three months and are waiting on a 24 billion Naira to buttress the losses incurred because of the lock down.
For now, Arik Air will operate three daily flights from Lagos to Abuja, as a test phase of a much larger process of reopening. The airline intends to include flights to Port Harcourt as other airports are cleared to open. Other airlines will watch to see how Arik performs before they begin operations.
It is incredibly important for the airlines to resume operations. Other countries have already begun to implement socially distanced travel and the Nigerian economy needs the boost. However, South Africa just announced 10,000 new infections in one day, the highest number of infections recorded on the continent in one day. The virus is still very active and the country simply does not have the infrastructure or resources to deal with a super spreader, or a cluster of infections. South Africa has done a better job of testing for Covid-19 infections and treating the infected and yet, secondary influences like racism, ethnic bias and xenophobia continue to create conditions for the virus to spread.
Is Nigeria ready to face a cluster, how many lives will come under risk because of this new development? Asides from the promises to sanitize the airports and social distancing protocols, what processes exist to prevent a tragedy?