COVID-19: Airlines Face New Threat As Second Wave Spreads
With the rising cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria and other countries, Nigerian airlines are likely to be hard hit again by the impact of the looming second wave on air travel.
Aviation experts have expressed worry that Nigeria could soon be hit by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic following rising daily cases and the abandonment of safety protocols by states across the country.
There have been warnings of an impending second wave of the virus in recent times as a number of European countries such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia, Greece, the Netherlands and Italy recorded daily increases in the number of confirmed cases.
Countries such as the UK, France and Germany recently went into a second lockdown due to the resurgence of the pandemic.
In separate interviews, aviation experts said the implications of these travel restrictions on Nigeria’s aviation industry could be dire, noting that Nigerian airlines and other operators had yet to recover from the recent closure of the airspace for more than three months.
On Saturday, data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control showed that between Saturday, December 5, and December 12, 2020, the number of COVID-19 cases hit 3,513 nationwide. The figure rose to 4,130 by Saturday night.
The total number of confirmed cases in the country rose to 72,757; the number of discharged persons was given as 65,850 while 1,194 deaths had been recorded.
Fresh fears have emerged in Lagos and Kaduna as Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday while his Kaduna counterpart, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, announced on Friday that he was going into self-isolation as one of his family members and a government official tested positive for the virus.
The Vice President, National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies, Lagos Zone, Mr Yinka Folami, argued that while air ticket sales were important, travel agencies were also concerned about public health.
He said, “Domestic demand is stabilising month-on-month. For international travel, there are restrictions. We should pay attention to public restrictions over commerce.
“This is because international travel is not as stable since there are restrictions. It will stabilise as the improvement of care for COVID-19-infected people and vaccine is achieved.
“It is also important to note that there has been a new surge of COVID-19 infections in America. When the first wave started, it affected demand but we are optimistic that by the first quarter of 2021, things will steady. There is a surge in Europe, America and even a slight surge in Canada.
“When there is a second wave, it is necessary to apply public health restrictions again which would affect travel. There are clear and definite restrictions in Europe and caution in flying to the UK and out; we have been lucky in Africa that we are relatively more stable in terms of the impact.”
For the month of April and June, the International Air Transport Association said Nigerian airlines lost $2.09bn.
Similarly, IATA predicted a net loss of $118.5bn for airlines in 2020 (higher than the $84.3bn forecast in June) in another report in November.
The report titled ‘Deep losses continue into 2021’ also predicted a net loss of $38.7bn in 2021 (higher than the $15.8bn forecast in June).
The global airline body explained that the second half of 2021 was expected to see improvements after a difficult 2021 first half.
An aviation consultant, Mr Olumide Ohunayo, told our correspondent that the aviation industry could recover in late 2021.
He said, “The industry may not recover until late 2021 and that is if the vaccine is successful and we can avoid a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We know that almost all the countries are getting into the second wave now. But it is accepted that for all countries, the domestic travel may be the first to pick up and thereafter the regional before the international flights pick up.”
The Federal Government warned last Thursday that the country was on the verge of a second wave of the pandemic.
It also reopened isolation and treatment centres, which had been closed due to reduced patient load, while the workers had been put on the alert for reopening.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said, “We are seeing an increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last few days. Last week, we recorded 1,843 against 1,235 we recorded two weeks before.
“In the past 24 hours, 474 new confirmed cases and two deaths were recorded.”
Ehanire said the increase in infections stemmed from rising community transmission, as well from travellers entering Nigeria.
Speaking in a telephone interview, the spokesperson for Dana Air, Mr Kingsley Ezenwa, said, “We are not praying for a second wave and not hoping it happens. What we will do is ensure that passengers keep to the protocols at the airports and on the flights.”
A spokesperson for Arik Air, Mr Banji Ola, echoed the same sentiment, saying, “We have never relaxed protocols; we are still observing the COVID-19 protocols.”
Air Peace had lamented in a recent statement the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations, saying the pandemic slowed down maintenance checks of several of its fleet.
Similarly, Arik Air had on December 4 relieved 300 staff members of their appointments, hinging the decision on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on its operations.
IATA said in a recent report that the global passenger traffic growth dropped in October.
It said demand, measured in revenue passenger kilometres, was down 70.6 per cent compared to October 2019.
IATA’s Director-General and Chief Executive Officer, Mr Alexandre de Juniac, said the resurgence of the second wave of COVID-19 and government reliance on quarantines affected air travel demand.
Last month, China announced that it had temporarily suspended entry into China by Nigerians and other nationals in Nigeria holding valid Chinese visas or residence permits due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It said the decision was necessitated by the current situation of COVID-19.
United Kingdom, Belgium, Luxembourg, Philippines and a few others were also affected by the policy.
An aircraft engineer and Chief Executive of 7 Stars Global Hangar, Isaac Balami, said, “I don’t think the government can risk shutting down the country again.
“I believe that the government has done enough campaign in the media. There has been an awareness of social distancing, even if it is not observed in most places.
“What is more important is that we have to find a way to look after ourselves and manage our business and the entire economy so we do not get to a point where things get out of control.”
When contacted by our correspondent, the Regional General Manager/Airport Manager, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Mrs Victoria Shin-Aba, said the decision to close airports rested with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.