Airport workers at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos are panicking over the devastating effect of Coronavirus, which has killed many, especially in China, as some Chinese are set to return to Nigeria after their Lunar celebration.
Although Chinese authorities have directed their citizens not to travel broad, THISDAY learnt that many Chinese who travelled to their country for the celebration would want to return.
A source told THISDAY on Wednesday, “Hundreds of Chinese left Nigeria for China to celebrate their annual festival –Lunar New Year– to return next week. At the moment over 6,0000 Chinese are already infected with coronavirus, the Nigerian government should take serious precautions and preventive actions before we have an epidemic in Nigeria. Coronavirus in Nigeria will be a giant catastrophe. Please circulate this until someone high in authority hears about it.”
THISDAY learnt that the Federal Airports Authority (FAAN) of Nigeria is already working with the Port Health Department of the Federal Ministry of Health to ensure that the virus is not imported into the country.
“All measures used to contain the dreaded Ebola virus have been re-activated afresh and more precautionary measures have also been taken to contain any eventuality,” FAAN said.
The Regional Manager in charge of MMIA, Mrs. Victoria Shin-Aba, told THISDAY in Lagos on Wednesday, that FAAN has activated public health emergency system and all stakeholders involved with air travel are being carried along.
She also disclosed that sensitisation was being carried out by a committee on communicable diseases being supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO), adding that a national emergency meeting would be held today in Abuja and on Monday FAAN would hold another meeting to domesticate the decisions taken at the national level.
Shin-Aba also said the agency has warned its staff to be very careful, adding that FAAN is considering limiting the operations of some airlines but that would need to be approved by higher authorities.
“But we have directed all our staff who have anything to do with passengers to be more careful while processing passengers. We have also issued directives that anyone suspected to be exposed to the virus should be immediately quarantined.
“We have also involved the Lagos state government and we are strictly abiding by the health emergency plan. We are prepared for this because before the coronavirus, we were working on similar problem and that made us to be more prepared,” she said.
Coronavirus is adversely affecting the global air travel market.
Reuters reported that China’s growth has helped power a global aviation boom over the last decade, but as the country curtails travel in the face of a new coronavirus, a slowdown could hit the industry harder than ever before.
Reuters also reported that United Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd and Finnair Plc were among the carriers that have already canceled some flights to China as countries expand travel warnings and demand plummets due to the coronavirus outbreak.
British Airways has halted bookings of direct flights from London to Beijing and Shanghai until March, according to its website.
The virus that has killed more than 130 people and sickened more than 6,000, the vast majority of whom are in China.
US officials said the White House had decided against suspending all flights there for now, but was still considering the measure.
The virus appears to represent the biggest epidemic threat to the airline industry since the SARS outbreak, which at its peak in April 2003 led to a 45 per cent plunge in passenger demand in Asia, analysts said.
The global airline industry has been profitable for the last 10 years, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Airlines are in a stronger financial position than in 2003, but also far more dependent on China.
“Airlines and airports that are financially strong and well managed are able to overcome a drastic drop in air travel,” said Shukor Yusof, head of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics. “Weak and poorly managed airlines will suffer.”