COVID-19 in SSA; Impediments on travel and operations

COVID-19 in SSA: Impediments on travel and operations

Compared to other regions of the world, Sub-Saharan Africa has seen low infection numbers since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Part of the comparatively low infection rate in the region could be explained by the rather prompt response by national governments at the initial stages of the pandemic. Several governments imposed mandatory 14-day quarantines and suspended international air travel, likely due to concerns that their national healthcare systems would not be able to cope with outbreaks of similar magnitude as those seen across many other countries, such as the US and the UK. However, likely due to the comparatively low infection numbers and deaths, governments across the region are now beginning to ease restrictions or are planning to do so over the coming two months.

While leaving the ultimate decision up to its members states, the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) announced a resumption of air travel in three phases at the end of June. Domestic travel operations were already permitted by the middle of that month, while regional flights will resume from 15 July and extra-ECOWAS regional flights will resume on 21 July. Intercontinental flights are due to resume from 1 August.  

Meanwhile, several large air carriers have started to announce their intention to resume flight operations to the continent. These include Air France, Qatar Airways, EgyptAir, and Air Senegal. Air Mauritius will not resume international operations before 31 August and Kenya Airways does not anticipate its flights to resume before Q3 of this year.

While plans to resume flight operations are indeed reflecting a need to re-start formal economic activity and corporate travel which have been severely hampered by the stringent movement restrictions and physical-distancing requirements, the looming recessions across the world as a result of the pandemic present longer-term risks to business travel and accommodation. According to the African Union commission for infrastructure and energy, Amani Abou-Zeid, African countries lost USD55 billion in tourism and travel revenue over the past three months due to the collapsed demand.

In terms of aviation, a series of large airlines are facing a dire outlook due to the collapsed demand. Among them are carriers such as, Comair, Air Mauritius, and Air Namibia. A number of large European airlines which operate flights between the European Union and Sub-Saharan Africa are also struggling and have announced restructuring plans, including job cuts and closure of regional hubs, over the coming three months. These include Air France-KLM, British Airlines, and Brussels Airlines, and the restructuring plans are reducing the number of route options – including direct and indirect flights – between the two regions.

The hospitality sector is also facing a perfect storm due to severely depressed tourist numbers. An avalanche of business closures, particularly of small- and medium-sized enterprises which dominate the sector, is expected over the next three to six months. The June edition of Kenya’s Monetary Policy Committee Market Perceptions Survey indicated that in the tourism sector had either been furloughed or laid-off during the month of April. Underscoring the crisis in the country’s tourism sector was the closure of in the capital Nairobi at the end of May.

Further business closures are likely to following over the coming three months, further reducing the availability of accommodation and business flights. In parallel to reduced availability, physical-distancing requirements will also limit capacity. The combination of these factors is likely to increase ticket and accommodation prices over the coming year, as neither of the two sectors anticipate a full recovery within two years at least.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE JULY 2020 SPECIAL SSA EDITION OF THE SUB-REGIONAL INTELLIGENCE MONITOR

Also in this edition:

COVID-19 in SSA: Limited spread compared to other regions

COVID-19 in SSA: Insurance and security implications