Mideast virus quarantine measures not working, says IATA

International flights in Saudi Arabia are not due to restart until January at the earliest. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 27 November 2020

Mideast virus quarantine measures not working, says IATA

  • International Air Transport Association predicts economic impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will feel the damaging economic impact of the coronavirus disease pandemic on the aviation sector for many years to come, according to a leading global industry organization.

And the only way to help the recovery is to eliminate quarantine measures and introduce systematic testing of passengers, said the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The latest figures issued by the IATA forecast global airlines to lose a total of $157 billion this year and next, with those in the Middle East set for 2020 losses amounting to $7.1 billion, and $3.3 billion in 2021.

“Saudi Arabia, just like other countries, was impacted a lot because of its large networks and large carriers that are operating not by Saudi carriers only . . . Saudi Arabia has around 94 international carriers flying in and out of the country, and all those were stopped,” Muhammad Ali Albakri, IATA regional vice president for the Middle East and Africa, told Arab News.

He pointed out that due to its strategic geographical position the Middle East had a high degree of connectivity, with 1,060 routes as of April 2019.

All flights in, out, and within Saudi Arabia were grounded in March. While domestic flights restarted in May and Riyadh has reported that the volume of traffic has recovered to nearly 60 percent, international flights are not due to restart until January at the earliest.

FASTFACT

43%

IATA expects Middle East airline revenues to improve by 43 percent next year compared to 2020.

As a result, IATA said that Saudi Arabia’s air connectivity score this year dropped by96 percent, which was the biggest in the region and compared to 89 percent in the UAE.

The negative impact of COVID-19 on aviation revenues and passenger demand will be felt for years, the association added.

It predicted that the Middle East’s revenues for 2021 would improve by 43 percent — compared to 2020 — but would still be down 16 percent from the peak before COVID-19, equating to about $68.5 per passenger.

“The forecast for 2021 is better than 2020 but would not be enough because it is expected to remain negative in the territory and revenues, due to delays in anticipated recovery that was expected in the second half of 2020, but did not happen,” Albakri said.

One of the ways in which the region could speed up the economic recovery from COVID-19 would be to eliminate quarantine measures and adapt systematic testing of passengers,  IATA said.

Sixteen countries in the Middle East have opened their borders to regional and international air travel, but nine of these still have quarantine measures in place, which IATA said equates to a closed border.

“Reopening borders safely is a must, it’s no longer an alternative, it really has to happen and has to happen quickly. Quarantine cannot work, countries cannot continue to rely on closing their borders, or opening the borders but requiring quarantines,” Albakri added.

IATA is calling for the systematic testing of passengers without the need for quarantine on arrival, which will enable governments to safely open borders and help their economies to recover from the impact of the pandemic and control the spread of the disease.

“We are advocating systematic testing is the safe alternative to reopen borders; testing that is scalable, affordable, accurate, and fast in delivering the results is the way forward,” Albakri said.

The association noted that the Middle East’s high level of connectivity would also help aviation companies play a key role in the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines worldwide. In order for this to happen, it said governments in the region needed to work closer together and adopt internationally accepted measures and procedures.

“Countries in the region have to start working together to support the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines, not only to the need of the region’s countries and populations but also to act as a shipping hub between East and West to help vaccines to be transported safely and securely around the world,” Albakri added.

He said that IATA was working with all countries in the Middle East directly, and in cooperation with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the Arab Civil Aviation Organization, to merge paths and efforts to adopt a unified methodology, and that a proposal had been prepared for Arab transport and health ministers to take onboard.


UK economy shrinks by 2.6% in November, first drop since April

Updated 15 January 2021

UK economy shrinks by 2.6% in November, first drop since April

  • The fall in gross domestic product much lower than the average forecast for a 5.7 percent drop

LONDON: Britain’s economy shrank by 2.6 percent in November, the first monthly fall in output since the depths of an initial COVID lockdown in April, as new restrictions were imposed on much of the country to slow the spread of the disease.
The fall in gross domestic product reported by the Office for National Statistics was much lower than the average forecast for a 5.7 percent drop in a Reuters poll of economists.
The Bank of England estimates Britain’s economy shrank by just over 1 percent over the final three months of 2020, and with a new lockdown in place since January the country is likely to have fallen into a double-dip recession.
The BoE ramped up its bond-buying program to almost 900 billion pounds in November and Governor Andrew Bailey said this week that it was too soon to say if further stimulus would be needed.