Cautious optimism as nations ease flight, tourism restrictions

Murtala Muhammud International Airport, Lagos. PHOTO: AYODELE ADENIRAN

Countries are opening up to tourists and travellers alike but with stringent conditions that are similar to a travel ban. WOLE OYEBADE writes.

More countries are opening up the international airspace for commercial airlines and tourism to resume. Travellers will however find that some of the conditions are not encouraging for immediate travel or tourism.

Across many of the countries that have announced resumption of flights, the mandatory 14-day quarantine and recent COVID-19 certificate remain in place. Some simply placed a ban on travellers from certain regions and COVID-endemic countries. Few others, like the UK did recently, could pull the rug off travellers that are already close to boarding or mid-air. It is still as messy as it can get in air travel.

Indeed, the COVID-19 curve is yet to flatten out globally. But countries are getting to live with it, treat cases as they come and reinstate lockdown where recurrence starts going haywire.

In Nigeria, the aviation authorities and foreign airlines this week began to consider possible reopening of the international airspace with COVID-19 safety protocols. The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, who earlier hinted of an opening before October 15, said local authorities would not be railroaded into hurried resumption just because other countries are doing so.

He is right. Other countries that are partially opening are doing so with a lot of caution and barely leaving anything to chance.

We are open, but…
Holiday sites visited by The Guardian showed that flights are beginning to take-off in some countries that earlier imposed lockdowns.

In Africa, Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and Tanzania have allowed or announced the imminent resumption of scheduled international passenger flights.

In Benin, passengers are being subjected to medical screening but at the traveller’s expense. In Cameroon, limited international air travel has started as at July 17. Services by Air France, Brussels Airlines, and Ethiopia Airlines operate out of Douala International Airport, and Yaounde Nsimalen International Airport. All passengers intending to travel to Cameroon must present a negative COVID-19 test taken up to three days before the flight.

Egypt has reopened all its airports for scheduled international traffic. Foreign tourism is limited to resorts in three coastal provinces. All arriving passengers in Ethiopia must have a negative COVID-19 test done within the last 72 hours and undergo medical checks and quarantine for 14 days at a government designated hotel.

Tunisia has also reopened its sea, land and air borders to 45 countries with no restrictions and over 50 countries with testing needed.

Tourists are allowed to enter the United Arab Emirates (UAE) again through Dubai airport. Arriving passengers must have proof of adequate health insurance and a negative COVID-19 PCR test done within the last 96 hours. Passengers without a test will be tested on arrival and quarantined for 14 days if the result is positive. Emirates Airline has hinted Nigerian travellers that they will pay COVID expenses of up to $174,000 for travellers that test positive away from home, and pay quarantine costs of €100 a day for 14 days.

America-bound passengers, who have transited or have been in Austria, Belgium, Brazil, China, Czech Rep., Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland or in the UK, in the past 14 days are not allowed to enter and transit, as at the last check.

And for the United Kingdom, passengers arriving from over 65 countries will not have to self-isolate for 14 days. Passengers from other countries will need to self-isolate for 14 days.
Dramatic turn

To tell how quickly travel policies could change in COVID-19 era, the UK, early this week, introduced mandatory two-week quarantine on travellers from Spain. Around 1.4 million Britons were in the popular holiday destination when the directive took effect.

Queues of home-bound travellers reacted with anger and confusion as they prepared to board a plane from Madrid on Sunday morning.

The government suddenly pulled its air bridge with Spain with almost immediate effect following a spike of coronavirus cases in the country. The rules apply to all regions of Spain, including the Canary and Balearic islands – though politicians in the latter say they are attempting to thrash out a regional air bridge.

Tough recovery ahead
World airlines, apparently unimpressed with the level of progress in the COVID-19 era, said the industry would not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024, a year later than previously projected.

The recovery in short haul travel is still expected to happen faster than for long haul travel. As a result, passenger numbers will recover faster than traffic measured in RPKs. Recovery to pre-COVID-19 levels, however, will also slide by a year from 2022 to 2023. For 2020, global passenger numbers (enplanements) are expected to decline by 55 per cent compared to 2019, worsened from the April forecast of 46 per cent.

IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alexandre de Juniac, said passenger traffic hit bottom in April, but the strength of the upturn has been very weak.

“What improvement we have seen has been domestic flying. International markets remain largely closed. Consumer confidence is depressed and not helped by the UK’s weekend decision to impose blanket quarantine on all travellers returning from Spain. And in many parts of the world infections are still rising. All of this points to a longer recovery period and more pain for the industry and the global economy.

“Domestic traffic improvements notwithstanding, international traffic, which in normal times accounts for close to two-thirds of global air travel, remains virtually non-existent. Most countries are still closed to international arrivals or have imposed quarantines that have the same effect as an outright lockdown. Summer — our industry’s busiest season — is passing by rapidly; with little chance for an upswing in international air travel unless governments move quickly and decisively to find alternatives to border closures, confidence-destroying stop-start re-openings and demand-killing quarantine,” de Juniac said.

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