•African carriers to lose $200 million
By EMEKA EJERE
These are not the best of times for operators in the aviation and travel industry as caution to avoid travelling to some parts of the world intensifies amid growing concerns about the dreaded Coronavirus disease currently plaguing the world.
Checks by BusinessHallmark revealed that the growing fear of the highly infectious disease is taking toll on the patronage of airlines and travel agencies across Nigeria just like other parts of the world as travelling has now become a more risky venture.
The precautionary fears escalated since February 28, when an Italian who came from Milan to resume work in Nigeria tested positive to the disease, prompting even more caution from both the federal and state governments.
With nearly 86,000 cases of infected persons across 61 countries worldwideand almost 3, 000 deaths, the Coronavirus has become a nightmare for many countries, which remain unable to predict where new cases of infected persons will pop up next.
Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are normally transmitted between animals while some can be transmitted from person to person, usually after close contact with an infected patient. The first case of this new disease was confirmed in China on the January 7, 2020 and preliminary investigations showed that most patients either visited or worked in the Huanan Seafood wholesale market, Wuhan City.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that with porous borders, a continuing flow of travellers and poorly resourced healthcare systems, the risk of an outbreak across Africa was very high, raising significant concerns about the ability of “fragile health systems” to cope.
With the number of those infected surging daily, the disease is not only causing panic in the countries where a significant number of cases have been detected, but it is also hurting economies of these countries, in particular the tourism industry and indeed travellers.
The federal government has asked Nigerians to halt any plans to visit China for now in view of raging case of Coronavirus in the Asian country. The Minister of Health, Dr. OsagieEhanire, said at the end of a Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja that the FEC approved a travel advisory for Nigerians, stating clearly that all travel plans to China be stopped in the meantime.
“In view of the trending stories around the Coronavirus, it has become very necessary to issue a travel advisory to Nigerians. The first is that all Nigerians and all from Nigeria, intending to travel to China should delay all their travel plans until further notice, except it is extremely essential for them to do that trip”, the minister had warned.
But China does not seem to be only source of worry for the government and the world. As the minister was speaking in Abuja, a Nigerian who had traveled to France was being quarantine for signs of the virus in Lagos. Apart from China, Italy and France have been the major centres of infection in Europe. Over a 1000 schools have been closed in both countries.
Similarly, the umbrella body of all traders in the South East, the Amalgamated Markets Traders Association (SEAMATA), has called on traders in the South East zone in particular and the country in general to shelve for now all business trips to China and other Asia countries to avoid getting contact with the deadly Corona virus now plaguing that part of the world.
“SEAMATA wishes to inform all our members in particular and all the traders across the federation in general, to be on red alert over the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus epidemic currently in China and other Asian and Far East countries.Incidentally, China and other Asian countries remain the business destinations of our members in their numbers”, Chief Gozie Akudolu, SEAMATA president said in a statement.
Also, the Anambra State Government has banned its citizens from travelling to Wuhan, China, following the outbreak of the disease. A statement by the commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C-Don Adinuba, warned Anambra citizens to shun Wuhan.
The statement read in part: “The Coronavirus pandemic may have started in Wuhan but it is a clear and potent danger to the international community, including Anambra State. We advise all the people of the state not to travel to the city of Wuhan for now despite its allure as an industrial and transport hub.”
Little wonder a large number of Nigerians who had planned their abroad vacations or business trip for the beginning of 2020 in countries like China, South Korea, Italy, and even other countries in Europe, are now cancelling their trips, due to fear of catching the coronavirus.
Many travellers who may not mind the virus, have woken up to find that tourist attractions and markets in these countries and others, universities and schools, as well as other public spaces and even restaurants and bars have closed in some parts where the number of those infected is higher.
Experts believe that the outbreak of Coronavirus in Asian countries especially China holds serious implications for Nigeria’s economy as a good number of Nigerians travel to China every day to transact businesses.
“As Nigerians shun China as directed by the Ministry of Health for a period of time over the new virus, businesses will be affected, the economy will be affected, so also many families down here that heavily rely on businesses with China,” Charles Eze, a businessman, told Business Hallmark.
“This is coming at a very bad time; a time when many businessmen are groaning under the border closure that has grounded many genuine businesses”, Eze said.
“Now, look at this. China remains one of the countries that have robust trade relationship with Nigeria. We can see how China has almost become everything to Nigeria in terms of road construction, technology transfer, etc. The outbreak of Coronavirus at this time is indeed a big blow on our economy.”
Speaking with BusinessHallmark on how the fear of Coronavirus has affected the turnover of her organization, Mrs. Joy Alexander, managing partner, Westview Travels and Tours Limited, noted that the widespread panic has affected both local and international travels and resulted in about 20 per cent decrease in their patronage.
She explained that many who are panicking do not even know the places that are worst hit by the scourge, all they know is that it is safer to avoid travelling until the situation improves. She, however, added that as bad as the situation may be, travelling is still going on due to the huge population of Nigeria.
“It has affected both local and international travels because people are scared”, Alexander-Oziegbe said.
“Many do not even know the places where the number of infected people is higher, all they know is that they should avoid travelling until the situation improves.
“However, travelling is still going on because we’re quite many in this country. It has not stopped. But our patronage has reduced by about 20 per cent.
“What we also do now is to advise people to change their destination to areas that are still free from the disease. For instance, we can tell them, instead of travelling to China, why not go to Turkey?
“Generally people are scared to move even within Nigeria. Some people no longer want to come to Lagos.
The managing director of a popular travel agency in Lagos, who pleaded unanimity told BusinessHallmark that her organization has had to grapple about 70 cases of ticket cancellation.
“It is really hitting us hard”, she said.
Reports say airlines in Nigeria and other African countries have been estimated to lose $200 million in revenue this year over flight disruption due to Coronavirus spread. Though the losses are in varying degrees, airlines operating on the Chinese routes will bear the larger brunt, the report added.
Meanwhile the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced global passenger traffic data for January 2020 showing that demand climbed 2.4 per cent – the onset of the Covid-19 related flight disruptions.
The January data was down from 4.6 per cent year-over-year growth for the prior month and is the lowest monthly increase since April 2010, at the time of the volcanic ash cloud crisis in Europe that led to massive airspace closures and flight cancellations.
The chief executive officer (CEO) of Ethiopian Airlines, Africa’s largest carrier, Tewolde Gebre Mariam, said the virus had slashed passenger demand. Ethiopian Airlines has faced criticism online for not cancelling flights to China like neighbours Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda.
“The air travel demand for Ethiopian Airlines has declined by 20 per cent due to the corona. It is a big shock,” Tewolde said.
IATA’s director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, said January was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the traffic impact owing to the Covid-19 outbreak, given that major travel restrictions in China did not begin until 23 January.
“Nevertheless, it was still enough to cause our slowest traffic growth in nearly a decade,” de Juniac said.