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Alternative to ‘travel apartheid’ must be found, says Archbishop of Canterbury

08 December 2021


Passengers queue to be tested in Heathrow Airport, on Sunday

Passengers queue to be tested in Heathrow Airport, on Sunday

THE addition of Nigeria to the red list has prompted the Archbishop of Canterbury to join the Nigerian High Commissioner in speaking of the UK’s “travel apartheid”.

The Government announced on Saturday that Nigeria would be added to the travel red list of countries from 4 a. m. on Monday, “as precautionary action . . . against the Omicron variant”. This meant that “UK and Irish citizens and residents arriving from Nigeria must isolate in a government-approved managed quarantine facility for 10 days, and receive two negative PCR tests. Currently, the vast majority of cases in the UK have clear links to overseas travel from South Africa and Nigeria.”

It also said that all non-UK and non-Irish citizens and residents who had been in Nigeria during the past ten days would be refused entry to the UK.

The Nigerian High Commissioner, Sarafa Tunji Isola, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: “The travel ban is apartheid in the sense that we are not dealing with an endemic — we are dealing with a pandemic. Whenever we have a challenge, there must be collaboration.”

Archbishop Welby wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that he agreed with Mr Isola.

“With #Omicron set to become the dominant variant in the UK, I appeal to the British government to remove Nigeria and South Africa from the red list — together with all other countries currently on it,” he wrote. “We must find fair and effective approaches for those who are vaccinated and tested to enter the UK. I agree with the Nigerian High Commissioner to the UK — we cannot have ‘travel apartheid’.”

The Archbishop also described it as morally wrong and self-defeating “effectively to punish other nations for being transparent when they discover new Covid variants”, as the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, has argued (News, 3 December).

Archbishop Welby continued: “The only route out of this pandemic is #VaccinEquity. We must end vaccine nationalism and stockpiling. We must get vaccines distributed in countries that need them the most. The choice is vaccine nationalism or human solidarity.”

The Archbishop was backed by the Bishop of Hertford, Dr Michael Beasley, who is an epidemiologist. Writing on the C of E website on Wednesday, he saluted the success of the UK’s vaccination programme.

“Yet even as we give thanks for this success, the arrival of Omicron — a variant of the virus that was first identified thousands of miles away — has underlined once again that caring for everyone’s health, wherever they may be, is not just a matter of justice, it’s also in our own self interest.

“Every time a person is infected with Covid around the world, the probability increases that new mutations of the virus will happen and make it to our shores.”

He wrote that it was “lamentable” that, despite the fact that, by the end of the year, 12 billion doses of vaccines will have been produced, “enough to vaccinate every adult in the world, 95 per cent of adults in low income countries remain unprotected.

”We must act now to change this picture and demand vaccine equity across our globe. None of us are safe until we’re all safe.”

In the House of Lords, on Thursday of last week, the Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, asked the Government what steps it was taking, since the emergence of the Omicron variant, to support vaccination programmes in developing countries.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom, responding for the Government, drew attention to its support for the COVAX programme (News, 26 March), “which has delivered over 483 million vaccines to low and middle-income countries. This will rise to 1.8 billion doses by mid-2022.”

Dr Smith questioned these statistics, however. “Affinity said yesterday that we have, in fact, delivered to developing countries only 11 per cent of the vaccines we have promised; so I wonder when the remaining 89 per cent might be delivered,” he said.

He noted that the Anglican Communion was working with church leaders in Africa and parts of Asia “on overcoming vaccine hesitation”, and asked whether ministers would meet Anglican Communion officials “to see how we can roll these programmes out faster”.

Lord Sharpe replied that he did not recognise Affinity’s statistics. “We have already delivered 16 million doses through COVAX and directly to recipient countries, of which over six million have been delivered to 14 countries in Africa,” he said. “Some 5.8 million doses are with COVAX and are in the process of being allocated and delivered, and a further nine million will be delivered to COVAX in the coming weeks, direct from AstraZeneca. Countries receiving those doses include Kenya, Nigeria, and Mozambique.”

He continued: “I pay tribute to the Church for the extensive work it does on both Covid and other diseases, in particular in Africa, and of course we would be more than happy to meet and talk about this.”

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