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African countries cautioned against rushing to reopen airspace

A total of 270 Ugandan Nationals returned today aboard a Fly Emirates aircraft from the United Arab Emirates. PHOTO via @UgandaMFA

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | African countries have been urged to take extra precaution as they open airports for commercial flights.

The caution from the World Health Organisation comes after governments that had closed cross-border travel as a means to forestall the spread of COVID-19 started opening their airspace’s mainly allowing citizens to return home. Up to 36 countries across Africa had closed their borders to international travel.

Uganda has in recent weeks received nationals from India, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Rome, Iceland, Ireland and Egypt, many of whom were stuck in the countries when the airports were closed. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, around 2,400 Ugandans are expected to travel back into the country.

But WHO says that countries like Uganda assess the epidemiological situation to determine whether maintaining restrictions outweighs the economic cost of reopening borders. The agency adds that countries should allow cross border travel to resume if they have the means to handle a spike in cases that might be brought in by travelers.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Africa region director says that while air travel is vital for the free flow of goods and people, it poses a threat to human life during this time. “As we take to the skies again, we cannot let our guard down. Our new normal still requires stringent measures to stem the spread of COVID-19,” she said.

WHO recommends that countries carry out extensive screening of all returnees. In addition to this, it calls for testing and following up of all returnees so that the spread of COVID-19 can be stopped if they develop symptoms.

As of today, over 400,000 confirmed cases have been reported in Africa. It is estimated that the impact of the pandemic on airlines within the continent will likely be severe. Data from the International Civil Aviation Organisation shows that African airlines could lose USD 6 billion in passenger revenue.

In the worst-case scenario, international air traffic in Africa could see a 69 percent drop in international traffic capacity and a 59 percent decline in a domestic capacity according to an analysis by the International Civil Aviation Organization.



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