As countries close their borders, restrict flights in order to stop the spread of COVID-19, Chinedu Eze writes that the measure, though effective, has paralysed flight operations
Many governments have locked down their borders and restricted flight operations as in order to contain the spread of the pandemic, coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
Frightened by the records of the spread and number of deaths, nations rose to adopt very stringent measures against the disease, which economic experts project would bankrupt world.
Records show that the cases outside China have surpassed those inside it and Spain now has the fourth-most cases in the world. The central Chinese city, Wuhan that was the former epicenter where the viral illness was first detected in December was down to just one new case by Tuesday.
The latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures list 173,000 infections globally and 7,000 deaths.
Countries from Canada to Switzerland, Russia and Malaysia and European countries announced new restrictions on the movement of people across their borders.
Only China, Italy and Iran have more infections than Spain, where the number increased by roughly 20 per cent, to 9,191 and fatalities rose to 309, according to the Spanish Health Ministry. It switched to a new reporting system, so the actual number may be higher.
CNN reported that as at Tuesday, 27 African countries had recorded only 347 coronavirus cases, according to the World Health Organisation on Monday.
Four countries: Egypt, Algeria, South Africa and Morocco account for more than half of the novel coronavirus cases on the continent. Seven people have died from Covid-19 in Africa four in Algeria, two in Egypt and one in Morocco.
Ghana has barred entry for all travelers, except Ghanaian citizens and permanent residents, who have visited a country with at least 200 recorded cases of Covid-19 in the last 14 days, effective on March 17. There will be a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine for anyone entering the country, travel advisory from the West African nation has stated.
On March 15, the Kenyan government announced the suspension of all travellers from countries that have reported COVID-19. Only Kenyan citizens would be allowed into the country with self-quarantine or government-designated facility and this measure is in place for 30 days and all who arrived within the last 14 days must self-quarantine,” officials added.
Morocco also suspended all flights to Algeria, Belgium, China, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Spain as well as passenger ferry services.
The government also shut down the land borders with Ceuta and Melilla, the autonomous Spanish territories on the coast of Morocco.
Travelers arriving in Morocco, “will be asked to fill out a health questionnaire on arrival and may be subject to temperature and other screening,” according to officials.
Also on March 14, the Namibian government announced that it would be suspending inbound and outbound flights from Qatar, Ethiopia and Germany for 30 days.
In the same vein, on March 15, President Ramaphosa of South Africa declared a national state of disaster and announced that all travellers who had entered South Africa from high-risk countries since mid-February would be required to present themselves for testing. Additionally, any foreign traveller who has visited high-risk countries in the past 20 days will be denied a visa. As of March 16, 35 out of 53 of the country’s land ports of entry will be closed, as well as two of its eight seaports.
The battle to contain the coronavirus reached new urgency on Tuesday, as more governments locked down borders and ordered new closures and restrictions.
Records showed that cases outside China have surpassed those inside it and Spain now has the fourth-most cases in the world. The central Chinese city that was the former epicenter where the viral illness was first detected in December was down to just one new case yesterday.
The latest World Health Organisation (WHO) figures list 173,000 infections globally and 7,000 deaths.
A surge of patients in Madrid’s hospitals also fueled worries across Europe of what lies ahead.
“There is no easy or quick way out of this extremely difficult situation,” said Prime Minister of The Netherlands Mark Rutte in the first televised speech by a Dutch premier since 1973.
“Countries from Canada to Switzerland, Russia and Malaysia and European countries announced sharp new restrictions on the movement of people across their borders.
“Only China, Italy and Iran have more infections than Spain, where the number increased by roughly 20 per cent, to 9,191 and fatalities rose to 309, according to the Spanish Health Ministry. It switched to a new reporting system, so the actual number may be higher.”
Reports indicated that China’s Wuhan, former epicentre, reported one new case. The central Chinese city that was the former epicenter, where the viral illness was first detected in December was down to just one new case Tuesday.
As the pandemic expanded its reach, China and South Korea were trying to hold their hard-fought gains. China is quarantining new arrivals, who in recent days have accounted for an increasing number of cases, and South Korea starting tomorrow would increase screenings of all travellers arriving from overseas.
Although there have not been restrictions on air travel among African countries because many countries in the continent have not recorded up to 200 cases of the coronavirus, except Algeria and Senegal that have high toll, but measures taken by the region’s states would adversely affect flight operations.
CNN reported that Africa has so far recorded relatively few coronavirus cases compared to the rest of the world, but governments across the continent are taking no chances as they race to stop the spread of the virus on their shores.
Sudan has sealed off all seaports, land crossings and airports.
Restriction and Palliatives
However, the Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has called for the restriction of entry points to two airports for international flight operations. It listed Lagos and Abuja as the only airports where inbound flights should be processed.
In statement signed by its Chairman, Captain Nogie Meggison, AON also called on the Ministry of Aviation to take a cue from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by directing the various agencies under its supervision to immediately put in place and extend critical palliative measures to Nigerian airline operators in order to reduce the burden of colossal loses they have suffered and continue to suffer from the impact of the virus on air travel.
“The Central Bank of Nigeria has issued a statement acknowledging the adverse impact of the virus on the global and Nigerian economies and announced a moratorium of one year on all principal repayments of intervention loans effective March 1, 2020; reduced interest rates from 9 to 5 percent per annum for one year; and created a N50 billion targeted credit facility to cushion the impact of the virus on businesses.
“Similarly therefore, we use this medium to call on the aviation agencies through the Federal Ministry of Aviation to follow the same path by taking action to support domestic airlines that are the drivers of our national economy,” AON said.
The operators said Nigerian airlines are suffering heavily from the impact of the Coronavirus, as the passenger numbers have dropped drastically and “our overheads remain the same on many fronts and even increasing significantly on other fronts. Like we all know Nigerian airlines trade in Naira but we do our business in Dollars and the Naira has come under pressure since the Coronavirus pandemic.”
AON urged the agencies to help the airlines by immediately streamlining the over 32 multiple charges given to airlines which are mostly double billing, stating that government should also bear 100 per cent cost of disinfecting all aircraft for this period and provide thermal scanners and hand sanitisers as well as mobilise more manpower and training of Port Health personnel at the nation’s local airports to encourage more people to travel.
“What we are asking for is not unprecedented. For instance, in the United States of America, airlines are seeking a $50 billion bailout. As part of its response, an Emergency Stimulus Package was passed by the US Senate and House and they reduced interest rates to 0.25 per cent. “Also, the bill granted their airlines tax credit for their losses during the pandemic. Our government can do the same; therefore, by granting the above stated reliefs to Nigerian airlines as a way of assisting them during this very difficult time to recover from their losses.
“The potential impact of the virus to our economy and security is unquantifiable and we need the immediate response of restricting travel into the country by allowing only entry points in order to minimise the spread of the virus,” AON said.
Travel expert and organiser of Akwaaba African Travel Market, Ikechi Uko said COVID-19 would reset the world and give birth to a new way of travelling after its devastating effect on the global economy.
“There will be complete reset of everything as we know it today after the coronavirus. Air travel will suffer. Air travel is what joins the world together, but there is going to be space adjustment. People will begin to do things differently. Things like globalisation and all the related issues will change. Coronavirus will reset the world.
“This is why restriction is necessary because even domestic airline operations would have its implication in case of the spread. This is because the states are not ready in terms of medical system. Already there is growing panic and soon we will stop social events like wedding, burials, parties and promote social distancing in order to stop the spread of the disease,” Uko said.
However, The Economist has noted that the most affected industry globally by the coronavirus pandemic is air travel.
“But the speed and depth of the nosedive which airlines have taken is nevertheless breathtaking. In a memo to staff on March 13th, entitled “The Survival of British Airways”, the carrier’s boss, Alex Cruz, spoke of ‘a crisis of global proportions like no other we have known”.
“Most of the industry should pull through if the situation lasts one or two quarters. Any longer, and the future of air travel could be altered for good,” the magazine reported.