Africa starts opening airspace amid coronavirus outbreak

Africa starts opening airspace amid coronavirus outbreak
A worker wears a face mask as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 disease as he pushes trolleys at the international departures terminal at the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 July 2020

Africa starts opening airspace amid coronavirus outbreak

Africa starts opening airspace amid coronavirus outbreak
  • The continent faces major recession and has lost $55 billion in travel and tourism sectors

JOHANNESBURG: As COVID-19 cases surged in many parts of the world, the island nation of the Seychelles was looking good: 70-plus straight days without a single infection. Then the planes arrived.

Two chartered Air Seychelles flights carrying more than 200 passengers also brought the coronavirus. A few tested positive. Then, between June 24 and 30, the country’s confirmed cases shot from 11 to 81.

Now the Indian Ocean nation has delayed reopening for commercial flights for its lucrative tourism industry until Aug. 1, if all goes well.

African nations face a difficult choice as infections are rapidly rising: Welcome the international flights that originally brought COVID-19 to the ill-prepared continent, or further hurt their economies and restrict a lifeline for badly needed humanitarian aid.

“This is a very important moment,” the WHO’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters on Thursday, a day after Egypt reopened its airports for the first time in more than three months.

Other countries are preparing to follow. That’s even as Africa had more than 463,000 confirmed virus cases as of Sunday and South Africa, its most developed economy, already struggles to care for COVID-19 patients.

But Africa’s economies are sick, too, its officials say. The continent faces its first recession in a quarter-century and has lost nearly $55 billion in the travel and tourism sectors in the past three months, the African Union says. Airlines alone have lost about $8 billion and some might not survive.

Most of Africa’s 54 countries closed their airspace to ward off the pandemic. That bought time to prepare, but it also hurt efforts to deliver lifesaving medical supplies such as vaccines against other diseases. Shipments of personal protective gear and coronavirus testing materials, both in short supply, have been delayed.

“Many governments have decided travel needs to resume,” the WHO’s Africa chief said.

Africa has seen far fewer flights than other regions during the pandemic. Sometimes the entire West and Central African region saw just a single daily departure, according to International Civil Aviation Organization data.

While Asia, Europe and North America averaged several hundred departures a day from international airports, the African continent averaged a couple or few score daily.

Last week, the number of global flights jumped significantly. In the three-day period between June 30 and July 2, the daily number of departures increased from 3,960 to 6,508 as countries loosened restrictions, the data show.

African nations want to join the crowd. Senegal’s president has said international flights will begin on July 15. The 15-member Economic Community of West African States is expected to reopen its airspace on July 21. Nigeria has said domestic flights resume on July 8 while Kenya and Rwanda plan to restart flights by Aug. 1.

Kenya Airways wants to resume international flights. South Africa and Somalia are open for domestic ones, and Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Zambia now have commercial flights. Tanzania opened its skies weeks ago, hoping for a tourism boost despite widespread concern it’s hiding the extent of infections. It hasn’t updated case numbers since April.

African nations can seize the moment and do more tourism at home, Amani Abou-Zeid, AU commissioner for infrastructure and energy, told reporters last week.

“This is an opportunity to encourage Africans to see Africa,” she said. 

Not always. The 70 recently infected people in the Seychelles, all crew members from West African countries meant to work on tuna fishing vessels, were isolated on boats in a special quarantine zone in the harbor in the capital.


Jubail aims to build the first Saudi-made car by 2022

Engineering designs for the first Saudi-produced car by 2022 are in advanced stages. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Engineering designs for the first Saudi-produced car by 2022 are in advanced stages. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
Updated 39 min 50 sec ago

Jubail aims to build the first Saudi-made car by 2022

Engineering designs for the first Saudi-produced car by 2022 are in advanced stages. (Shutterstock/File Photo)
  • The move comes in coordination with South Korea’s SsangYong Motor Co. through setting up a car assembly center
  • Engineering designs are in advanced stages

RIYADH: The Royal Commission in Jubail started developing the infrastructure required for attracting three global automakers, Mohammad Al-Zahrani, Director of Industrial Investment Development Department told Al-Arabiya TV, expecting the first Saudi-made car in 2022.

The move comes in coordination with South Korea’s SsangYong Motor Co. through setting up a car assembly center. Engineering designs are in advanced stages, Al-Zahrani said.

The study conducted by the Royal Commission eyes to attract almost SR40 billion ($10.67 billion) direct investments to the automotive industry by 2040, Al-Zahrani added, noting that this sector will contribute SR80 billion to the Saudi Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and provide 27,000 direct jobs.

The Kingdom’s auto complex is part of the strategic industrial plan, as Jubail Industrial City and Ras Al-Khair Industrial City provide no less than 90 percent of the raw materials used in direct automobile manufacturing, he concluded.

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