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Aviation players worry as Omnicron upsets travel industry

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….. Aviation Ministry keeps mum on travel ban

NIGERIAN aviation stakeholders have expressed worry over the future of the travel industry which may yet be threatened by another lockdown, following the discovery of Omnicron coronavirus variant in Nigeria.

A number of European countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands and Italy, including African countries and the United Arab Emirates, have recorded daily increases in the number of confirmed cases.

Countries such as China, Israel, Japan and Morocco have imposed strict border controls in place due to the resurgence of the pandemic.

These global situations are reminiscent of March 2020 when the nation’s airports were closed to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

airlines
NCDC Director-General, Ifedayo Adetifa. Photo Credit: BBC

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Wednesday announced the discovery of cases of the Omicron variant in three persons with travel history to South Africa and subsequently intensified enforcement of vaccine mandate policy for its employees.

Meanwhile, the total number of confirmed cases in the country for the initial strain of the virus stands at over 214,000 while 2,978 deaths had been recorded as at 6 pm of December 3, 2021, according to the NCDC website.

Vice President of the Lagos zone of the National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies Yinka Folami noted that purchase of travel tickets had declined on the back of the discovery of the new variant and travel restrictions.

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“The pace of purchase of tickets now is interrupted and that is because of the Omicron virus and the additional restrictions put in place. So obviously, the purchases have reduced, some have been cancelled and even some bookings issued are also being cancelled. A lot of students going to Canada have their tickets on hold until there is a current position on entry requirements. That cuts across other segments of customer purchases,” he said.

In 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicted a net loss of $118.5bn for airlines. It said this would reduce sharply by $80bn in 2021, according to a report titled ‘Deep losses continue into 2021.’

Similarly, IATA said Nigerian airlines lost $2.09bn in April and June 2020, with passenger numbers declining by 5.32 million when compared to the corresponding periods in 2019.

Speaking in a telephone interview, spokesperson for Dana Air Kingsley Ezenwa said the industry miraculously survived the pandemic and it would disastrous if a lockdown would be imposed by the authorities. He, however, stated that the load factor on the domestic route for Dana had considerably improved to 80 per cent.

“Have you seen IATA press statement? Their stand is every other person’s stand. Recovery could be very difficult sometimes, the fact that we could get over the coronavirus initially was unbelievable, so we just need to follow IATA stands concerns the new virus strain,” he said.

“There is nothing anybody can do about the new strain of the virus than adhering to safety protocols. I don’t know how another economy shutdown would be like. It would be huge on the economy. I think it is best to stick with the safety protocols but Dana airline has been complying with safety protocols 100 per cent. Load factor is like 80-85 per cent at the moment.”

UAE route

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Responding to the sale of tickets on Nigeria to UAE route, Folami stated that there had been an uptick in ‘purchase intention and actual purchases.’

Emirate airline
File Photo: Emirate Aircraft

Just recently, two carriers –  Emirates and Air Peace – both announced intentions to commence flights from Nigeria into Dubai. This was after both countries met to amend travel requirements. Right after the announcement, reports revealed that Saudi Arabia and the UAE discovered the latest variant of COVID-19, Omicron, in their region on Wednesday.

Airline spokesperson of Air Peace Stanley Olisa and as well as communications firm for Emirates, JSP, did not specifically state whether they would withdraw services from that route for now. However, press statements attributed to both carriers stated that they would resume flights while adhering to safety conditions which included a negative Covid-19 PCR test certificate for a test taken no more than 72 hours before departure.

Aircraft engineer and Chief Executive of 7 Stars Global Hangar Isaac Balami advised the airlines to continue to operate. “As long as the airports are open, nothing is wrong in stopping Air Peace or Emirates from resuming. Some people need to move for various reasons. We should be relaxed and assume that all is well.”

He added, “Nigeria has not done badly but can still do more. The best way is to maintain the normal routine. Sanitise, wash your hands with soap and water, don’t expose yourself and other citizens. If we can be more careful, it would be good. The way it is going it seems the virus may never stop. It has gradually become part of lives and the best way to live with it is to protect yourself and protect others.”

Similarly, IATA, the global body for airlines, noted that international passenger demand in October 2021 was 65.5 per cent below what was obtained in October 2019.

In its report titled ‘Government response to Omicron threatens emerging recovery’ and released on Thursday, it said that airlines in Africa suffered a 60.2 per cent drop in passenger traffic in October 2021 compared to two years ago.

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IATA’s Director-General Willie Walsh said the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was affecting the gains of the travel industry.

“October’s traffic performance reinforces that people will travel when they are permitted to. Unfortunately, government responses to the emergence of the Omicron variant are putting at risk the global connectivity it has taken so long to rebuild,” he was quoted to have said.

Aviation Ministry mum on travel ban

The Ministry of Aviation is yet to decide if flights may be banned as a result of the discovery of the new variant in Nigeria. Its director of Public Affairs James Odaudu told our correspondent to direct inquires to the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 in a text message on Friday.

Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika

It read, “The issue is within the purview of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 and not the Ministry of Aviation. Kindly direct your enquiries there please.”

The NANTA Vice President expressed optimism that the travel industry would rebound.

“The industry would recover. As long as travel is about the position of distance, people will fly. There has been a pace of recovery. Everything we do in transport must be balanced against the issue of public health. There is a lot of pent-up demand that travel would rebound. I personally believe Omicron would settle down soon next year.”

Experienced Business reporter seeking the truth and upholding justice. Email tips to [email protected]

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