By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA

Economic and social activities in the country are gradually grinding to a halt from the crippling effect of Coronavirus outbreak the country has been experiencing for more than three weeks.

The deadly scourge, it would be recalled, first surfaced in Wuhan, China in December 2019, before spreading to most countries around the world.

The number of confirmed infections and deaths worldwide surpassed 200,000 and 10,000 figures for the first time last Friday. Nigeria confirmed its first case on February 27 when an Italian citizen arrived Lagos, through Milan, Italy on the 25th of February 2020. A week later, a Nigerian, who had contact with the Italian also tested positive for the disease.

The cases rose to 12 last Thursday when five persons tested positive to the disease. However, there is no sign that the scourge is about to abate as the damage to the nation’s economy increase by the day.

According to Business Hallmark findings, Nigeria is facing a full-blown national crisis as virtually all sectors of the economy have been negatively impacted by the disease. Checks revealed that while the disease itself is wreaking its own havoc, attempts by the government to check the spread of the virus is exacerbating the crisis. As part of attempts to limit the spread of Coronavirus, the Federal Government, as well as states governments, have all instituted lock-down measures, including the banning of public gatherings.

One sector that is reeling from the effect of the virus is the aviation sector. On Friday, March 20, the Federal Government, through the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), restricted all international flights into the country to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. According to NCAA, Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu and Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa, have all been closed to all international flights.

Earlier, several international and domestic airlines had suspended flights into and out of the country. For instance, Air Peace suspended its flight operations to Dakar, Senegal and Monrovia, Liberia as a result of the global coronavirus crisis. The airline said it would also be cutting down its Freetown, Sierra Leone and Banjul, Gambia operations to one flight a week and would suspend its Dubai via Sharjah flights from this week.

The Chief Operating Officer, Air Peace, Mrs Toyin Olajide, said the airline would also be reducing its operations into Accra, Ghana from Lagos to two flights daily and suspends its Abuja-Accra operations.

“Air Peace, as a result of the adverse effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on passenger traffic, has today taken the hard decision to downsize its flight operations in order to cut the mounting costs occasioned by the pandemic.

“On the domestic scene, we are reducing our frequencies while at the same time, restructuring our operations by deploying our hoppers to more airports.

“Our international operations into Dubai through Sharjah International airport shall be suspended from next week (this week) as the United Arab Emirates has shut its airports to nationals from other countries including but not limited to Nigeria.”

She said the airline decided after the emergency meeting following a decline in passenger traffic and the need to cut costs.

As a fallout of the outbreak, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority has suspended training and exchange programmes involving foreign trips for all the staff. The authority said it had issued detailed guidelines for officers of the agency who had recently travelled abroad to self-isolate for 14 days among other measures upon their return to Nigeria.

In a statement signed by the regulatory agency’s General Manager, Public Relations, Sam Adurogboye, NCAA said it was part of steps to protect its workforce from the Coronavirus scourge.

“This is just as a directive for the compilation of details of all NCAA staff already on any official assignments or training to a country where there is community transmission of COVID-19.

“This is to be forwarded to the office of the director-general and the general manager, aeromedical standards. All pending inspections, training and various exchange programmes involving foreign trips are suspended forthwith,” Adurogboye said.

He said the agency had also directed that the 2020 promotion exercise for staff scheduled to hold April 4 be suspended till further notice.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), in its country-specific loss analysis, said the disruption to air travel due to the continued spread of Coronavirus will cost Nigeria’s aviation industry over ($434m (N160.58 bn) in revenue and 22, 200 jobs. The association said that Nigeria would also lose approximately 2.2 million passengers if the spread continued.

The IATA said that since the end of January, thousands of passenger flights had been cancelled in Africa, noting that the cancellations would increase exponentially with the implementation of additional measures in different countries.

“International bookings in Africa are down roughly 20 per cent in March and April; domestic bookings have fallen by about 15 per cent in March and 25 per cent in April, according to the latest data.

“African airlines had lost $4.4bn in revenue as of March 11, 2020. Ticket refunds have increased by 75 per cent in 2020 compared to the same period in 2019 (01 February – 11 March).

“Airlines are fighting for survival. Many routes have been suspended in Africa and the Middle East and airlines have seen demand fall by as much as 60 per cent on remaining ones,” said IATA’s Director General and Chief Executive Officer, Alexander de Judaic.

Another sector of the economy that has been negatively affected is the oil and gas sector. The bug, according to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has triggered a glut of unsold Nigerian crude in the international oil market, with unsold crude cargoes continuing to build-up due to weak global demand caused by the virus.

While the NNPC had last week put the number of unsold cargoes for March as high as 50, traders say there are 30 or more unsold April-loading cargoes.

While the nation is losing revenue from unsold cargoes, it is also losing from the crash in crude price. Globally, the oil market has lost around half its value this month as the Coronavirus has led to the collapse of its demand.

As at 5.30 pm on Friday, Brent Crude which Nigeria’s crude is benchmarked was selling for $29.83. A trader expected differentials to go lower. Nigeria’s largest crude stream, Qua Iboe, valued at a premium of $3.00 a barrel to benchmark dated Brent in December, was offered at dated Brent minus 70 cents this week, two traders said.

“It’s a very large overhang. It can be the best price and margin in the world, but there is no storage for crude and product as demand collapses and shipping cost is going through the roof,” said a trader of Nigerian crude who asked not to be named.

The continued crash in the price of crude has forced the Federal Government to approve the oil benchmark of $30 per barrel as against $57 signed by the president in December 2019. The government also announced a N1.5 trillion reduction in the 2020 budget.

To curtail the spread of the deadly outbreak, the Federal Government and several states also introduced drastic measures across the country. While educational institutions, both public and private have been shut, churches and mosques have been asked to suspend any gathering that is more than 50 people.

Some of the states that have announced the closure of schools and banning of religious gatherings include Lagos, Ogun, Rivers, Delta, Kwara, Kano and many others. The decision of the Federal Government to restrict entry into the country for travellers from 15 countries, according to analysts, will also have dire consequences on the country.

Included in the list are China, Italy, Iran, South Korea, Spain, Japan, France, Germany, the United States, Norway, UK, Netherlands and Switzerland. Two countries were added to the list on Friday.

“Financially, the country will lose a lot from the ban. These people would have contributed to the nation’s treasury through visa fees charged by immigration authorities; they would have lodged in hotels and moved about in commercial vehicles. Not to talk of the loss in foreign exchange they would have brought into the country”, said a banker, Peju Ogunnaike.

BH also gathered that several companies, particularly those with large expatriate quotas, have either scaled down production or totally shut down. A Nigerian who works with a Chinese owned firm producing PVCs in Oregun, Ikeja, told our correspondent that the company shut down production two weeks ago due to the non-arrival of some of their experts still trapped in China.

“Apart from some of the personnel needed on the job, we couldn’t get necessary consignments from China as the country is currently under lockdown. This initially led to job cuts and later total shutdown”, he said.

Though unconfirmed, BH also gathered that some oil installations in the Niger-Delta have shut down production due to several reasons, including a glut in the market, the non-availability of parts and experts needed to drive production.

The Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), while reacting to the outbreak, blamed it for the delay in the completion of Lagos-Ibadan rail project. BH gathered that the pace of work on the 157 km long Lagos-Ibadan standard gauge rail line has been slow since the beginning of the year.

In November 2019, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had assured Nigerians that the project would be delivered by April 2020. This by all indications will not happen.

The Lagos District Manager of NRC, Jerry Oche, said the delay was due to the fact that the bulk of the workforce handling the project was stuck in China, where the disease broke out and spread to other countries.

According to him, the Chinese government prevented some of the workers from returning to Nigeria because of the virus.

“The simple question we should ask ourselves is what do we want? Do we want to be infected with the Coronavirus because we want to meet the time for the completion of the project?”

“Or we prefer a situation where the Chinese take care of themselves and get over the epidemic before coming to complete the project so that we all be safe and healthy?

“The project we are talking about is for the living people not for the dead. If the Coronavirus should infect us, how do we handle that?

“If the project is going to be delayed and we are safe of this disease, I think it is better. Even, if they come and carried the virus, they won’t be able to do the work.

“It will now be double jeopardy for the country. We will be running from pillar to post to contain the spread and the work will be stopped also. Safety is still the first,” he said.

The U.N.’s International Labor Organization had earlier in the month estimates that fallout from the virus outbreak could cause nearly 25 million job losses worldwide and drain up to $3.4 trillion worth of income by the end of this year. The Geneva-based agency said “an internationally coordinated policy response” could help mitigate such losses through worker protections, fiscal stimulus, and support for jobs and wages.