Covid-19 Update: Nigerian arrested for US Covid-19 scam, FG accuses UAE of discrimination

It is that time of the year when people start booking tickets for travelling to vacation spots around the world. However, the Covid-19 pandemic is changing even that as more people are opting to stay at home either because of expensive airfares or the fear of catching the virus.

Lesser cases of the virus were recorded in Nigeria last week compared to previous weeks. Only 168 people tested positive for the virus across Nigeria, as reported by the Nigerian Center for Diseases Control (NCDC). Previously, 228 persons tested positive. The total number of confirmed cases in the country so far is 176,543.

Nigerian arrested for scamming 17 US states

A Nigerian, Chukwuemeka Onyegbula, has been arrested and charged for carrying out employment scams in the United States. Onyegbula and his co-conspirators filed false claims for covid-19 related unemployment benefits in 17 states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington.

Online Scams

According to AP News, the states paid out a total of about $290,000 in claims related to his case. Onyegbula used the fake name “Philip Carter” and was linked to at least 253 fraudulent filings for unemployment benefits.

His case follows recent news of Nigerians who have been arrested and charged for fraudulent schemes and claims in the US. A Nigerian, Damilola was charged to court in late May for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.

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Weeks ago, Abidemi Rufai was nabbed and charged on account of requesting $350,000 in fraudulent claims in Washington and other states. About $288,000 made it into a bank account that he controlled. 

Onyegbula is an Information Technologist working for Pan Ocean Oil Corporation Nigeria Limited, according to the Seattle U.S. Attorney’s Office. He has been detained in Nigeria but has to be extradited to the US for prosecution.

FG accuses UAE of discriminating against Nigerians

Flights from Nigeria to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have been banned for weeks. In the PSC meeting held on Monday, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, disclosed that the ban is still in place because of the discriminatory protocols that the Emirate authorities have put in place for Nigerians.

Sirika said, “Emirates at that time wanted us to do the test 48 hours before boarding and 48 hours is not yet the incubation time. They expect us to do a rapid test at the airport and then fly seven hours later and do another test in Dubai and then follow us to our hotel or our accommodation and do another test.”

According to the minister, this does not add up or make scientific sense.

He went on to explain that Nigeria complied with this directive until Emirates authorities brought out another directive that is discriminatory and takes matters too far.

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Emirates insisted that in addition to the tests, Nigerians cannot fly to the UAE except through Emirates Airlines. For Nigerians that choose to travel using other airlines, they are required to remain in the country of that airline for two weeks before continuing to Dubai.

“Meaning that if I buy my ticket in a free market which Nigeria and UAE practice, if I buy a ticket on Ethiopian Airline, that means I must remain in Addis Ababa for two weeks whether I have a visa or not before I proceed to Dubai,” Sirika explained.

The minister said that Nigeria’s Covid-19 death and infection rate is much lower than that of Brazil and other countries, yet the UAE did not apply those protocols on them. Also, considering the high cost of Emirates tickets, not many Nigerians will be able to afford it if that is the only way of entering Dubai.

Nigeria extends travel ban to Brazil, Turkey and India

The federal government has extended the ban on flights from India, Brazil and Turkey by 4 weeks. In a separate announcement, the government also added South Africa to the list. The new directive was made known by the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on Monday.

This means that non-Nigerians will not be allowed from any of these countries. The Nigerians who come in from any of the countries will have to undergo strict protocols to make sure that they are not importing the Covid-19 virus and its deadly variants into the country.

The chairman of the PSC, Boss Mustapha, said, “In addition to these three countries, the PSC has also shifted its focus on some African countries. South Africa, Zambia, Rwanda, Namibia and Uganda fall in this category.

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South Africa for example, recorded over 100,000 cases in the last week while 20,000 was recorded in the last 24 hours. The four major variants of concern are now classified as Alpha (UK), Beta (SA); Gamma (Brazil) and Delta (India).”

South Africa bans alcohol, shuts down schools

The South African government has imposed a ban on alcohol sales for the next two weeks to help the country fight the surge in Covid-19 infections. In addition to the alcohol sales ban, the country also imposed a ban on gatherings except for funerals where the number of people will be a maximum of 50. Schools have also been shut down while eateries and restaurants have been directed to sell food for takeaways or deliveries.

Cyril Ramaphosa
President Cyril Ramaphosa

All of these are part of the country’s efforts to recover from what President Cyril Ramaphosa termed a massive resurgence of infection. “We are in the grip of a devastating wave that by all indications seems like it will be worse than those that preceded it,” he said.

South Africa is currently in the grips of a third wave of the Covid-19 outbreak which has been made a lot worse by an influx of the Delta variant first identified in India. The country recorded 90,000 cases in the previous week and this is the biggest weekly record since January, according to Bloomberg.

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With only 2.7 million out of SA’s population of 60 million having been vaccinated, President Ramaphosa says the vaccination drive will be ramped up to ward off the devastating effects of the third wave.

Fewer Nigerians travelling for summer vacation

Summer travelling has dropped from the to-do list of many Nigerians because of the harsh economic effects of the covid-19. June to September is usually the busy holidaying months when airlines make significantly more money from Nigerians looking to travel outside for vacation.

vacation

However, the sad state of the dollar to naira exchange rate has contributed to an almost doubling of ticket prices. Stringent Covid-19 protocols, multiple tests, high cost of tests, as well as the risk of contracting the virus has significantly reduced the volume of holidaygoers from Nigeria.

A Guardian report shows airlines that are usually booked full by this time of the year still had a lot of empty spaces available. In addition, Lagos-London-Lagos Economy Class tickets that people usually bought for about N200,000 before COVID-19, and N350,000 early this year, now sells for between N480,000 to N650,000 depending on the airline.


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