European countries banned flights from the UK on Sunday and the WHO called for stronger containment measures as the British government warned that a potent new strain of the virus was “out of control”.
As the World Health Organization urged its European members to strengthen measures against a new variant of Covid-19 circulating in Britain, the Netherlands imposed a ban on UK flights from 6:00 am (0500 GMT) on Sunday and Belgium said it would follow suit from midnight with ban on planes and trains from the UK.
Alarm bells were ringing across Europe — which last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic broke out a year ago — after it appeared that a new, even more infectious strain of the virus was raging in parts of Britain.
Germany, too, was considering a similar move as “a serious option” for flights from both Britain and South Africa, where another variant was discovered, according to a government source.
Italy will join the ban in order to protect its citizens, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook, without specifying when the measures would come into force.
Austria’s health ministry told the APA news agency that it would also impose a flight ban, the details of which were still being worked out.
A spokeswoman for WHO Europe told AFP that “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held a conference call on Sunday about the matter, according to the Elysee palace in Paris.
– Alarm bells –
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the infectiousness of the new strain had forced his hand into imposing a lockdown across much of England over the Christmas period.
“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News after Johnson U-turned on his previously stated policy of easing containment measures over the festive season.
Scientists first discovered the new variant — which they believe is 70 percent more transmissible — in a patient in September. And Public Health England notified the government on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.
But Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty pointed out that while the new strain was greatly more infectious, “there is no current evidence to suggest (it) causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is underway to confirm this.”
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,685,785 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.
And with the onset of colder winter weather in the northern hemisphere where respiratory diseases flourish, countries are bracing for new waves of Covid-19 with tighter restrictions, despite the economic damage such lockdowns wrought earlier this year.
The Netherlands is under a five-week lockdown until mid-January with schools and all non-essential shops closed to slow a surge in the virus.
Italy also announced a new regime of restrictions until January 6 that included limits on people leaving their homes more than once a day, closing non-essential shops, bars and restaurants and curbs on regional travel.
In Russia, health authorities said that the number of people who have died from the coronavirus has surpassed the 50,000 mark and now stands at 50,858.
– Vaccination rollout –
The rapid rollout of vaccinations is now seen as the only effective way to end the crisis and the economically devastating shutdowns used to halt its spread.
Europe is expected to start a massive vaccination campaign after Christmas following the United States and Britain, which have begun giving jabs with an approved Pfizer-BioNTech shot, one of several leading candidates.
Russia and China have also started giving out jabs with their own domestically produced vaccines.
The United States on Friday authorised Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, paving the way for millions of doses of a second jab to be shipped across the hardest-hit country in the world.
It is the first nation to authorise the two-dose regimen from Moderna, now the second vaccine to be deployed in a Western country after the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
The Wall Street Journal reported that US lawmakers had agreed on pandemic spending powers for the Federal Reserve late Saturday, clearing the way for a vote on a roughly $900-billion Covid-19 relief package for millions of Americans.
The deal would maintain the central bank’s ability to set up emergency lending programmes without congressional approval, the Journal said, but the Fed would require approval to restart existing CARES Act programmes once they expire at the end of this year.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow UAE flights to “all countries” to overfly the kingdom, state media reported Wednesday, days after allowing an Israeli aircraft to pass over en route to Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia has accepted an Emirati request to allow “crossing the kingdom’s airspace for flights heading to the UAE and departing from it to all countries”, the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing a source from the civil aviation authority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile announced that Monday’s historic first commercial flight of an Israeli aircraft direct to the United Arab Emirates across Saudi Arabia would not be the last.
“Israeli planes and those from all countries will be able to fly directly from Israel to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and back,” Netanyahu said, without giving any timeline.
The announcements come after a US-Israeli delegation visited Abu Dhabi on Monday, on the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to mark the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE.
Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel until the Jewish state has signed an internationally recognised peace accord with the Palestinians.
But the kingdom has cultivated clandestine relations with Israel in recent years, in a shift spearheaded by de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a sign of its cooperation with Israel, Saudi Arabia allowed Monday’s historic flight to cross its airspace, halving what would otherwise have been a long detour around the Arabian peninsula.
However, Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy and home to Islam’s holiest sites, faces more sensitive political calculations than the UAE.
Not only would a formal recognition of Israel be seen by Palestinians and their supporters as a betrayal of their cause, it would also hurt the kingdom’s image as the leader of the Islamic world.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative which called for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967 and an equitable solution for Palestinian refugees, in exchange for peace and the full normalisation of relations.
But a shared animosity towards Iran, along with Saudi attempts to attract foreign investment to fund Prince Mohammed’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, appear to be pushing the kingdom closer to Israel than ever.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel is working on opening a corridor over Saudi Arabia for flights to the UAE, following last week’s historic deal to normalise ties.
“We are working with maximum energy, and we have already begun to work on opening an air route over Saudi Arabia, which will simply shorten flights between Israel and the UAE,” he said during a visit to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.
“I estimate that we will reach an agreement that will genuinely allow direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai,” he said. “It is a major revolution.”
In March 2018, Air India launched the first scheduled service to Israel allowed to cross Saudi airspace.
It was seen at the time as a sign of a behind-the-scenes improvement in ties between the Arab kingdom and the Jewish state.
During a May 2017 Middle East tour, US President Donald Trump flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One, in a first known direct flights from Saudi Arabia to Israel.
A surprise announcement from Trump last Thursday revealed that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have decided to normalise relations.
It is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has been conspicuously silent on the deal, with no official reaction emerging from Riyadh.
Netanyahu said the deal would not only change Israel’s aviation options, but also its maritime trade.
“Dubai has the largest free trade zones in the world,” he said.
“Now these goods will — under the peace agreement –- reach the State of Israel and lower the prices of products.”
In a letter to UAE leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the deal.
“In these fateful days, leadership is measured by its courage and ability to be groundbreaking and far-sighted,” he wrote in Arabic.
“I make no secret of my hope that this move will also serve as a beacon, illuminating the road ahead for others,” he wrote, extending an invitation to Sheikh Mohamed to visit Israel.
Flight operations have resumed at the Kaduna International Airport on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, amidst strict safety protocols.
The resumption of flight operations at the airport also recorded an impressive turnout of passengers.
The flight restart was kicked off with the arrival of Azman Air from Lagos to Kaduna at about 7:30 am, more than three months after the country’s air space was shut down for scheduled passenger service due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
At the airport’s departure hall, passengers were required to wear face masks, observe social distance and use hand sanitizers as thermometers were also used to check their body temperature.
Some of the passengers expressed satisfaction with the level of compliance in response to tackling COVID-19 and hoped the compliance will be sustained.
Following the approval for resumption of flight operations, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) released new guidelines for air travellers and other airport users.
The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) according to the Manager of the Kaduna Airport and the Director of Aviation Security Services of FAAN, is aimed at protecting all passengers, staff and preventing further spread of disease.
The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) at the airports entails that air passengers must ensure a minimum of one-point-five metres (1.5m) physical distancing, aviation medical/port health personnel will screen each passenger and ensure the use of face masks.
They are also required to wash their hands as often as possible, while all luggage must be disinfected before entry into the departure halls.
Ivory Coast said Thursday it would resume international flights from July 1 after almost three months of being grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Domestic flights will resume on June 26, while land and sea borders will remain closed until at least July 15, Health Minister Eugene Aka Aoule said at a press briefing following a national security council meeting.
A state of emergency will stay in place and the greater Abidjan region, home to over five million people — a fifth of the population of the world’s top cocoa grower — will continue to remain isolated from the rest of the country, he said.
The region, which includes the country’s economic capital, accounts for nearly all of the more than 8,000 recorded coronavirus cases, including 58 deaths, the minister said.
Travellers arriving in the West African country will be subject to “control on arrival and monitoring during their stay thanks to a geolocation system,” he added.
Ivory Coast is one of the first African countries to announce the resumption of its international flights.
Zambia said on Thursday that it would immediately reopen all three of the landlocked country’s international airports to help revitalise the tourism sector hit hard by the pandemic.
Liberia is due to reopen its Monrovia International Airport on Sunday.
Ivory Coast began to ease its measures against coronavirus last month, lifting a curfew and allowing for the gradual resumption of classes and the reopening of shops and restaurants, while entertainment venues and nightclubs would remain shut.
Beijing cancelled at least 1,255 inbound and outbound flights on Wednesday, representing nearly 70 per cent of all services, the state-run People’s Daily reported, as fears grow over a new coronavirus outbreak.
City officials have urged residents not to leave the city, and several provinces have quarantined travellers from Beijing after more than 130 new cases were confirmed in the capital in recent days.
Cyprus welcomed its first tourists after nearly three months of coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday with flights scheduled from Israel, Greece and Bulgaria.
Cyprus is marketing itself as a relatively safe holiday destination in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, with a transmission rate below one and a very low mortality rate.
The Mediterranean island’s main airport at Larnaca reopened to passengers for the first time since a ban on commercial flights was imposed on 21 March.
“After two and a half months, the connectivity of our island with 19 other countries returns. Cypriot airports open with optimism with the first flight arriving at Larnaca from Israel,” Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos tweeted.
According to the airport’s operator Hermes, five arrivals and five departures were scheduled from Larnaca on Tuesday. The first departure was an Aegean airline flight which left at 8 am for Athens. The first arrival was an Israir Airlines plane from Tel Aviv at 10:30 am.
Paphos airport in the west of the island will welcome its first flights on June 21.
Karousos was at Larnaca to welcome the first visitors Cyprus has seen since early March.
Normally at this time of year, the island fills with north European tourists drawn by its pristine Mediterranean beaches.
Cyprus came out top in a survey of European beaches published by the European Environment Agency on Monday with 99.1 percent of its beaches boasting excellent water quality.
– Britons, Russians kept away –
Under its exit lockdown road map, Cyprus is initially opening its airports to a select band of 19 countries that are considered low risk.
They include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island’s two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.
Sweden, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are also not listed.
All those arriving between June 9 and June 19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they are coronavirus negative.
From June 20, there will be no need to provide a health certificate from 13 of the 19 countries and another six countries will be added to the list including Switzerland, Romania and Poland.
Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on the scientific data.
There will also be temperature checks and random testing of travellers, free of charge, when they arrive on the island.
To attract tourists to the island, the government has pledged to cover the medical costs of any visitor who tests positive for the coronavirus while enjoying a holiday on the Mediterranean island.
Authorities estimate that tourist arrivals this year, which had been projected at nearly 4 million before the coronavirus, will fall by as much as 70 percent, dealing a heavy blow to the sector which generates around 15 per cent of the island’s GDP.
Revenue from tourism generated 2.68 bn euros in 2019, down 1 per cent from the previous year, bolstered by record arrivals of 3.97 million.
Cyprus says it has one of the lowest ratios of coronavirus cases per capita in Europe having tested around 12 per cent of its population.
The Republic of Cyprus has a total of 970 coronavirus cases and only 18 deaths.
Greece on Saturday expanded its list of approved flights from EU destinations to include airports in countries hard-hit by the coronavirus, but flights from the worst-hit regions will still be subject to quarantine measures.
“It will now depend on airport of origin, not country (of origin),” a government official told AFP.
For France, the quarantine measures will apply to flights from the Ile-de-France region in and around Paris, officials said. For Italy, airports in the northern regions of Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Piemonte and Veneto are considered high-risk.
The same holds for Spanish airports in Castile and Leon, Castilla-La Mancha, Catalonia and Madrid, all areas hit hard by the coronavirus.
Britain has 13 high-risk airports including Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted.
But Edinburgh, which before the pandemic had direct flights to Greece, is not on the list.
A foreign ministry document on Saturday said Greece had drawn upon the recommendations of the EU Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to determine which EU airports were still high-risk.
And future flight policy will be based on EASA’s notifications that are renewed on a weekly basis, a second government official said.
From June 15 to 30, flights will only be allowed into Athens and Thessaloniki. Other regional and island airports will open on July 1.
“If your travel originated from an airport not in the EASA affected area list… then you are only subject to random tests upon arrival,” the ministry said.
“If you originate from an airport on the EASA affected area list, then you will be tested upon arrival,” it added.
“An overnight stay at a designated hotel is required. If the test is negative then the passenger self-quarantines for seven days. If the test is positive, the passenger is quarantined under supervision for 14 days,” the ministry said.
“Compulsory testing and quarantine will be limited only to travellers, irrespective of nationality”, it added.
On Friday, Greece had announced 29 countries as safe points of departure in a long-awaited statement.
The list included over a dozen EU countries but Britain, France, Italy and Spain were not among them owing to the spread of the pandemic there.
Certain flights into Athens international airport were still allowed during the lockdown for state affairs, cargo, emergencies and other purposes, but passengers entering the country had to quarantine.
Since May 4, Greece has progressively opened tourism-related businesses following a lockdown imposed in March to stave off an economic contraction that could reach 13 percent of output this year.
Year-round hotels are to resume operations on June 1, followed by seasonal hotels on June 15.
The country of 11 million has registered fewer than 180 deaths from COVID-19.
India will ground all domestic passenger flights from Wednesday to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government said, as more states ordered lockdowns.
India has already banned incoming international flights and sealed most of its land borders.
The government information bureau said only cargo flights will be allowed.
Domestic Indian carriers carried some 144 million passengers last year.
“Covid-19 pandemic is crippling the global economy and aviation including India’s once-booming aviation sector for years to come,” Devesh Agarwal, the editor of the Bangalore Aviation website, told AFP.
“This is not a short-term pandemic and the outlook for Indian aviation looks tragic. The aviation sector in India is decimated right now. This is similar worldwide.”
Dubai carrier Emirates announced on Sunday it will suspend all passenger flights from March 25 amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
“By Wednesday 25 March, although we will still operate cargo flights, which remain busy, Emirates will have temporarily suspended all its passenger operations,” the airline’s chairman and CEO Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum said in a statement.
“We continue to watch the situation closely, and as soon as things allow, we will reinstate our services.”
The United Arab Emirates on Friday announced its first two deaths from the COVID-19 disease, having reported 153 infections so far, of which 38 people have recovered.
Maktoum said that, until January this year, the Emirates Group was “doing well” against current financial year targets, but “COVID-19 has brought all that to a sudden and painful halt over the past six weeks”.
Arik Air has announced the temporary suspension of flights to all its West Coast destinations effective from Monday, March 23, 2020.
The management of the airline took the decision after a careful analysis of the novel CoronaVirus Disease (COVID-19) which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“The safety and well-being of our personnel and valued customers are paramount at this critical time. We do not want to take chances and this is why we have taken this decision,” Chief Executive Officer of Arik Air, Captain Roy Ilegbodu, said in a statement on Wednesday.