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

  • 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.


Huawei: Smartphone chips running out under US sanctions

Updated 08 August 2020

Huawei: Smartphone chips running out under US sanctions

  • Huawei is at the center of US-Chinese tension over technology and security
  • Washington cut off Huawei’s access to US components and technology last year

BEIJING: Chinese tech giant Huawei is running out of processor chips to make smartphones due to US sanctions and will be forced to stop production of its own most advanced chips, a company executive says, in a sign of growing damage to Huawei’s business from American pressure.
Huawei Technologies, one of the biggest producers of smartphones and network equipment, is at the center of US-Chinese tension over technology and security. The feud has spread to include the popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok and China-based messaging service WeChat.
Washington cut off Huawei’s access to US components and technology including Google’s music and other smartphone services last year. Those penalties were tightened in May when the White House barred vendors worldwide from using US technology to produce components for Huawei.
Production of Kirin chips designed by Huawei’s own engineers will stop Sept. 15 because they are made by contractors that need US manufacturing technology, said Richard Yu, president of the company’s consumer unit. He said Huawei lacks the ability to make its own chips.
“This is a very big loss for us,” Yu said Friday at an industry conference, China Info 100, according to a video recording of his comments posted on multiple websites.
“Unfortunately, in the second round of US sanctions, our chip producers only accepted orders until May 15. Production will close on Sept. 15,” Yu said. “This year may be the last generation of Huawei Kirin high-end chips.”
More broadly, Huawei’s smartphone production has “no chips and no supply,” Yu said.
Yu said this year’s smartphone sales probably will be lower than 2019’s level of 240 million handsets but gave no details. The company didn’t immediately respond to questions Saturday.
Huawei, founded in 1987 by a former military engineer, denies accusations it might facilitate Chinese spying. Chinese officials accuse Washington of using national security as an excuse to stop a competitor to US tech industries.
Huawei is a leader among emerging Chinese competitors in telecoms, electric cars, renewable energy and other fields in which the ruling Communist Party hopes China can become a global leader.
Huawei has 180,000 employees and one of the world’s biggest research and development budgets at more than $15 billion a year. But, like most global tech brands, it relies on contractors to manufacture its products.
Earlier, Huawei announced its global sales rose 13.1 percent over a year ago to $65 billion in the first half of 2020. Yu said that was due to strong sales of high-end products but gave no details.
Huawei became the world’s top-selling smartphone brand in the three months ending in June, passing rival Samsung for the first time due to strong demand in China, according to Canalys. Sales abroad fell 27 percent from a year earlier.
Washington also is lobbying European and other allies to exclude Huawei from planned next-generation networks as a security risk.
In other US-Chinese clashes, TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, is under White House pressure to sell the video app. That is due to fears its access to personal information about millions of American users might be a security risk.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced a ban on unspecified transactions with TikTok and the Chinese owner of WeChat, a popular messaging service.