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African airlines’ fortunes dip amid Omicron fears

Nigeria and Southern Africa’s air connectivity has been decimated after various countries around the world, especially the United Kingdom, restricted access to travellers arriving from the two countries, writes WOLE SHADARE

 

The future of African carriers looks bleak, no thanks to COVID-19, currently exacerbated by the Omicron variant.

 

This has led to many European, North American nations imposing travel ban on many parts of Southern African countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Malawi, including Nigeria, among many others.

 

The umbrella body for African airlines, African Airlines Association (AFRAA), has forecast a full-year loss of $8.5 billion for airlines all over the continent.
It said in a statement on Tuesday that African airlines cumulatively lost $10.21 billion in revenue due to the impact of the pandemic, representing 58.8 per cent of 2019 revenues.

 

Perception

 

Travel bans are the “modern” versions of these policies and have been often used against Africans. When the AIDS epidemic broke out 40 years ago, travel and residency restrictions were imposed on people with HIV, despite there being no public health rationale. These restrictions led to deportations, denial of entry into countries, loss of employment, denial of asylum and increased stigma and discrimination, which disproportionately affected Africans.

 

Perceptions that Africa is a “source of disease” have also driven Western efforts, espe

 

cially by the media, to “blame” the Omicron variant on South Africa, before enough evidence of its origin was made available. Contradictions in this theory – such as European countries detecting cases of the variant in people who had not traveled to South Africa – have not stopped this drive.

Recovery at risk

The report titled: ‘African airlines’ performance updates by AFRAA – November 2021’ stated that Africa’s poor performance could affect the survival of the aviation industry across the continent.

It states: “Across the African continent in general, passenger traffic volumes continued to be low due to the inconsistencies in the messaging regarding border closures, health protocols and continued surge in COVID-19 infections in some countries and, recently, the concern about omicron identified as a potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant.

 

“The result is significantly low airlines revenues. Full-year revenue loss for 2021 is forecast at $8.5 billion, that is, 49 per cent of the 2019 revenues. In 2020, African airlines cumulatively lost $10.21 billion in revenues due to the impact of the pandemic, representing 58.8 per cent of 2019 revenue. This poor performance is a direct threat to the survival of the African aviation industry.”

While the report tried to ascertain whether the Omicron variant was transmissible, it said the number of cases had reached 257 million globally and 8.6 million in Africa. This variant, it explained, was responsible for the drop in passenger demand for travel.

 

“From January to November 2021, air passenger traffic reached 41.6 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. Similarly, capacity reached 58 per cent. The low evolution of ASK is explained by the on-going travel restrictions and the low willingness of travelers.

The domestic market maintained the biggest share for capacity, but reduced traffic in August 2021, with demand for passenger travel outperforming intra-Africa and intercontinental at 39 per cent, compared to 29.3 per cent for intra-Africa and 31.6 per cent for intercontinental. Both intra-Africa and intercontinental displayed an increase in traffic. As regards passenger seats offered, domestic, intra-Africa and intercontinental account for 44.7 per cent, 22.4 per cent, and 32.9 per cent respectively,” the report states.

Hope wanes

The trade association of airlines observed that African airlines’ restart of operations on international routes continued with the positive trend into November as only four of the top 15 African airlines exceeded the number of their international routes in the pre-COVID period.

It, however, noted that air traffic fell from 81.3 per cent in October to 80.8 per cent in November 2021 due to some airlines that closed a few international routes, among which were Air Arabia Maroc and EgyptAir.

 

Nonetheless, the report acknowledged all regulatory moves to stem the movement of the Omicron variant in various countries, including the United Kingdom’s ban on flights from Nigeria over the COVID-19 virus.

 

Nigeria bears fang

Meanwhile, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), in a memo to all airlines operating international flights in and out of the country, threatened them with a $3,500 fine per passenger as well as a ban from coming into Nigeria.

The memo, which was forwarded to New Telegraph on Sunday evening, charged airlines to only board passengers with evidence of a negative COVID-19 PCR test no less than 48 hours of boarding.

Governments’ regulations

The government of Morocco tightened entry restrictions to its territory and suspended flights to some European countries, including the UK, Germany and the Netherlands due to the rise in COVID cases. The move comes in response to the growing number of COVID cases across Europe.

 

Effective December 1, 2021, only COVID certificates obtained on the Trusted Travel platform or verified on the Global Haven systems will be valid for entry or exit into Namibia at certain points of entry. Namibia aligned itself with the African Union, which has implemented the Trusted Travel System, an online platform for travelers to register their personal and COVID-test-related details prior to travel. EU: Recommendation on the lifting of European travel restrictions for third-countries nationals – Updated country list – Two African countries on the list: Namibia and Rwanda, as from November 9.

Red lists

The Government of Canada published the list of countries with entry prohibitions, which includes Botswana, Egypt, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Foreign nationals who have been in any of these countries within the previous 14 days will not be permitted entry into Canada.

This is as of December 1. U.S. joins EU in restricting travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi. The ban came into effect on November 29. Effective December 6, the United Kingdom has banned flights from Nigeria over Omicron.

Last line

The kneejerk decisions to bar air travel in some parts of Africa, not a few believe were taken when there was still little information on the transmissibility and severity of the Omicron variant, or indeed on its origins.

To them, the roots of these blanket travel bans, which the WHO says will not prevent Omicron spread, go way back to colonial times and reflect twisted perceptions and marginalisation of Africa and Africans.

 

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