Mideast virus quarantine measures not working, says IATA

Mideast virus quarantine measures not working, says IATA
International flights in Saudi Arabia are not due to restart until January at the earliest. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 27 November 2020

Mideast virus quarantine measures not working, says IATA

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.


Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’

Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’
Updated 20 min 39 sec ago

Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’

Canadian firm pulls out of Carrefour takeover after France insists ‘No’
  • Carrefour has more than 12,300 stores in more than 30 countries and employs 320,000 people worldwide
  • Canada's Couche-Tard has offered to take over the French supermarket giant for 16 billion euro ($19.5 billion)

PARIS: Canadian convenience store chain Couche-Tard has reportedly pulled out of a multi-billion euro takeover of supermarket giant Carrefour after the French government said it would veto the deal.
Negotiations over the 16 billion euro ($19.5 billion) deal ended after a meeting between the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire and the founder of Couche-Tard Alain Bouchard, Bloomberg news agency said, citing sources.
French ministers had insisted Friday they would not agree to the takeover because it could jeopardize food security, an even more important consideration given the coronavirus pandemic.
In an attempt to reassure ministers, Bouchard had promised to invest billions in Carrefour, said he would maintain employment for two years and that the group would be listed on the Paris Stock Exchange in parallel with Canada, Bloomberg reported.
Contacted by AFP, neither Couche-Tard nor Carrefour had confirmed the information on Friday evening.
Although talks had stopped, anonymous sources cited by Bloomberg said negotiations could resume if the French government changes its position.
But on Friday, France’s Economy Minister made his choice public, telling BMTV and RMC: “My position is a polite, but clear and definitive ‘No’.”
“Food security is a strategic consideration for our country and one does not just hand over one of the large French distributors like that,” Le Maire said.
“Carrefour is the biggest private sector employer in France with nearly 100,000 employees,” he noted, and the group accounts for 20 percent of the food distribution market in the country.
The French statements have not convinced the Canadian government.
A Canadian federal source said while they could understand concerns over allowing a foreign firm to take over such a large national employer, concerns over food security were unsubstantiated.
“But we cannot accuse a leading Canadian company like Couche-Tard of endangering the food sovereignty of an entire country,” the source, who requested anonymity, told AFP.

'Food sovereignty'
On Wednesday, Couche-Tard submitted a non-binding offer for Carrefour, valuing the group at more than 16 billion euros ($19.5 billion).
Le Maire made clear immediately that he was not in favor of a deal involving “an essential link in food security for the French, of food sovereignty.”
The government’s reaction had caused “surprise” at Carrefour itself, according to sources who said the comments were “premature” given that merger discussions had barely begun.
“We haven’t decided yet whether the interest shown is attractive for us,” one company official said on condition of anonymity earlier in the week.
Carrefour has more than 12,300 stores of various formats in more than 30 countries and in 2019 generated a net profit of 1.3 billion euros ($1.5 billion) on revenue of 80.7 billion euros ($97.4 billion).
It employs 320,000 people worldwide.
Couche-Tard has a worldwide network of more than 14,200 stores and earned a net profit of $2.4 billion on sales of $54 billion in its last complete year.
In the United States and several European countries, as well as in Latin America and southeast Asia, it operates under Circle K and other brands.