Airlines face turbulence over surging Covid cases

Airlines, including national carrier Kenya Airways, face fresh uncertainty ahead of the peak festive season following a surge in Covid-19 infections on key service routes such as Europe and Southern Africa.

The discovery of a new Covid variant in South Africa earlier this week has triggered massive disruptions in the global airline industry as more countries scramble to tighten their travel restrictions.

Japan, the UK, and Singapore are among those who have imposed stricter quarantine measures and banned flights from South Africa and neighbouring countries.

The EU has also proposed a ban on flights from the region as the World Health Organisation (WHO) began assessing the potential impact of the new Covid variant. Singapore, Italy, and Israel have placed all of those nations, plus Mozambique, on their red lists.

Kenya has on her part enhanced screening of travelers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, and Hong Kong with the Health acting director-general Patrick Amoth saying that they would be required to present proof of vaccination before being allowed in.

Travelers are also required to present a negative Covid -19 test result obtained 96 hours before arrival into the country.

Ban on flights

The latest Covid-19 crisis is already causing a storm in the aviation sector with players such as Kenya Airways expected to suffer disruptions at a time they had projected bigger businesses coinciding with the Christmas festivities.

British Airways yesterday said it was contacting affected customers by the ban on flights from Southern Africa while another airline, Virgin Atlantic said it would be reviewing its schedule for South Africa for the coming week, with flights from Johannesburg to Heathrow cancelled between noon on Friday and 04:00 on Sunday.

Kenya Airways did not respond to enquiries on the latest Covid-19 situation but analysts expect major disruptions on some of the airline’s routes as the festive season began.

Only last month, KQ increased the frequencies to the UK to two weekly after Britain removed Kenya from the red list of countries, which barred travellers from Kenya from going to the UK. The carrier also started flights to France after suspending the route a while back.

The airline lost 1,123 employees to close 2020 with 3,652, in a period when coronavirus-related air travel restrictions saw it record the highest loss in its history. Half of the airline staff left through resignations or voluntary early retirements.

The airline posted a Sh11.49 billion net loss in the six months ended June — a 19.8 per cent cut from the Sh14.33 billion loss it incurred in the preceding similar period, taking its accumulated losses over the years to above Sh127 billion.

Passenger revenue dropped by 17 percent to Sh20.23 billion while cargo revenue went up 60 percent due to increased focus on freight operations, especially Covid-19-related essentials like vaccines.

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