The British government suspended visa applications from Nigeria on Monday in a move sparked by the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
London's travel ban on Nigeria took effect at 4 a.m. Monday, according to a statement from the UK's Nigeria country office. UK authorities said the ban was deemed essential after 21 cases of the new variant were reported in travelers from Nigeria.
UK citizens and residents traveling from Nigeria will be allowed re-entry but must isolate in a government-managed facility, the statement said.
During a television interview on Sunday, Nigeria's health minister Osagie Ehanire criticized the travel ban.
He noted that the move contradicted the World Health Organization's position that countries must collaborate and not shut their borders as a result of the new variant.
"The rationale for being so hasty in putting countries on a red list is not something that is very helpful," Ehanire said. "It's going to disrupt commerce, family reunions, goods and services, particularly at this time of the year towards the Christmas festivities."
Nigeria announced three cases of the omicron variant last Wednesday, but the UK's discovery of more cases in Nigerian travelers raised concerns about the possibility of undetected transmission in the country.
However, Ehanire says that does not warrant a travel ban just yet.
"We regularly get travelers coming in from the UK who are covid positive," he said. "In fact, within the last two weeks, the COVID-positive arrivals that we had were 50 percent from the UK. There's genetic sequencing going on, we shall have the result soon. We don't know how many of them are necessarily omicron variant."
The omicron variant has spread to nearly 50 countries, and experts say the variant spreads more than twice as quickly as the delta variant. But scientists are not sure of omicron's impact, and whether it causes the same numbers of hospitalizations and deaths.
Nigerian Justin Chukwemeka, who was scheduled to fly to the UK this week to reunite with his family, says the new travel ban is devastating.
"This whole development is new and it's actually going to cause a lot of discomfort in different areas, financially, mentally and all that. I'm just hoping and believing that this doesn't last long," he said.
UK authorities say the ban will stay in place for three weeks before they review whether the measures are necessary.