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E.U. Set to Let Vaccinated U.S. Tourists Visit This Summer - NEW YORK TIMES

APRIL 26, 2021

The head of the European Commission said the bloc would switch policy, under certain conditions, after more than a year of mostly banning nonessential travel.



BRUSSELS — American tourists who have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to visit the European Union over the summer, the head of the bloc’s executive body said in an interview with The New York Times on Sunday, more than a year after shutting down nonessential travel from most countries to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The fast pace of vaccination in the United States, and advanced talks between authorities there and the European Union over how to make vaccine certificates acceptable as proof of immunity for visitors, will enable the European Commission, the executive branch of the European Union, to recommend a switch in policy that could see trans-Atlantic leisure travel restored.

“The Americans, as far as I can see, use European Medicines Agency-approved vaccines,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said Sunday in an interview with The Times in Brussels. “This will enable free movement and the travel to the European Union.

“Because one thing is clear: All 27 member states will accept, unconditionally, all those who are vaccinated with vaccines that are approved by E.M.A.,” she added. The agency, the bloc’s drugs regulator, has approved all three vaccines being used in the United States, namely the Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson shots.

Ms. von der Leyen did not offer a timeline on when exactly tourist travel might open up or details on how it would occur. But her comments are a top-level statement that the current travel restrictions are set to change on the basis of vaccination certificates.

She noted that the United States was “on track” and making “huge progress” with its campaign to reach so-called herd immunity, or the vaccination of 70 percent of adults, by mid-June.

She added that resumption of travel would depend “on the epidemiological situation, but the situation is improving in the United States, as it is, hopefully, also improving in the European Union.”

Diplomats from Europe’s tourist destination countries, mostly led by Greece, have argued for weeks that the bloc’s criteria for determining whether a country is a “safe” origin purely based on low cases of Covid-19 are fast becoming irrelevant given the progress of vaccination campaigns in the United States, Britain and some other countries.

Technical discussions have been going on for several weeks between European Union and United States officials on how to practically and technologically make vaccine certificates from each place broadly readable so that citizens can use them to travel without restrictions.

These discussions are continuing, officials in Brussels said, and it is possible that a low-tech solution would be used in the near future to enable people to travel freely on the basis of vaccination. For example, a traveler to Europe could get an E.U. vaccine-certificate equivalent on arrival after showing a bona fide certificate issued by his or her own government.

The hope, officials said, is that this step would soon be unnecessary as government-issued vaccine certificates issued by foreign governments would be acceptable and readable in the European Union, and vice versa.

The European Union itself has begun the process of furnishing its own citizens with “digital green certificates,” which will state whether the traveler has been vaccinated against Covid-19; has recovered from the disease in recent months; or has tested negative for the virus in the past few days. Europeans will be able to use those to travel without added restrictions, at least in principle, within the bloc of 27 nations.

Based on Ms. von der Leyen’s comments, the European Commission will recommend the change in travel policy, though individual member states may reserve the right to keep stricter limits. They might not permit citizens from outside the bloc to visit or might enforce restrictions like quarantines, even on visitors who have vaccination certificates.

But countries like Greece, Spain, Italy, Portugal and Croatia that welcome millions of American tourists each summer, and greatly depend on them for income and jobs, are set to jump at the opportunity to reopen to the American tourism market with the E.U.’s blessing.



The Nervous Person’s Guide to Re-Entering Society

Until now, nonessential travel to the European Union has been officially banned with the exception of visitors from a short list of countries with very low caseloads of the virus, including Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

Some E.U. countries have made small exceptions to permit visitors from outside the bloc. Greece, for example, said last week that it would open its borders to travelers from the United States starting Monday, provided they show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

The visitors from the handful of countries that are officially permitted to visit the European Union under existing rules would normally still have to comply with various sets of requirements implemented on a country-by-country basis, including having a negative coronavirus test and following quarantine rules.

The return of vaccinated visitors to Europe’s beaches and tourist sites would bring a desperately needed financial boost for countries in its southern rim, in particular. And for millions of would-be tourists around the world, as well as for airlines and the broader travel industry, it would herald a cautious and limited return to something that feels like normalcy.

For Americans especially, it would also highlight a stark change in Covid-19 fortunes: going from undesirable in Europe a year ago, when the pandemic was raging in the United States, to being in the front of the line of global travelers free to resume leisure trips.

But the return of leisure travel to Europe on a bigger scale will also highlight the deepening inequality between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, both within countries and, particularly, on a global level. With India in the throes of the worst rise in coronavirus infections in the world, and with the past week’s global case total the highest since the pandemic began, that contrast could become even more jarring.


India’s super-rich flee ‘unimaginable horror’ - ASIA TIMES

APRIL 26, 2021

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to cancel state visit to India next week as a 'precautionary measure'

By DAVE MAKICHUK

As the rich and super rich scramble to escape the horrors of the Covid-19 surge in India, airline fares have soared along with the number of private jet charters to foreign nations.

According to a report in The London Times, at least eight private jets carrying India’s super wealthy landed in London ahead of the UK’s 4 am ban on travel from India.

Both the UK and Canada added India to its “red list” of pandemic-stricken countries.

As of Friday, any Britons returning from India must quarantine for 10 days in a government-approved hotel.

All non-British or non-Irish citizens will be banned entirely from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.

According to a report in The Daily Beast, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to cancel his own state visit to India scheduled for next week as a “precautionary measure.”

The last of the luxury airliners to arrive, VistaJet Bombardier Global 6000, which left Dubai Thursday to collect passengers in Mumbai, landed at 3:15 am, just 44 minutes before the restrictions took place.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government has banned passenger flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days, CBC News reported.

At a virtual press conference, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said that because an increasing number of travellers from both countries have been arriving in Canada with Covid-19, all commercial and private passenger flights from those countries will be barred as of 11:30 pm Thursday night.

Cargo flights will still be permitted in order to maintain shipments of essential supplies, such as vaccines and personal protective equipment, he said.

Alghabra also said air passengers who depart from India or Pakistan but arrive in Canada via a third country will need to produce a negative result on a Covid-19 test taken at their last point of departure before being allowed to enter Canada. 

According to The Daily Beast, the private jet passengers were fleeing unimaginable horror back home.

At least 14 Covid-19 patients perished in a devastating fire that ripped through an ICU ward in one of India’s overcrowded hospitals about 70 miles outside Mumbai, the report said.


The fire that broke out around 3 a.m. Friday morning was contained and extinguished, but not before 14 patients — many who were intubated and hard to evacuate — had died.

“Around 90 patients were admitted to the hospital at the time of the incident,” Dilip Shah, the head of the Vijay Vallabh Hospital where it happened, said in a statement Friday.

One eyewitness, Avinash Patil, told reporters outside the hospital that no doctors were present at the time.

“I got a call at around 3 a.m. from a friend whose mother-in-law was admitted to the hospital,” he said.

“As I reached the hospital, I saw fire engines outside. The ICU on the second floor was engulfed in smoke. Only two nurses were there, and I couldn’t see a doctor. It took firefighters about half an hour to put out the flames. We could see eight-10 bodies there.”

Earlier in the week, an oxygen leak in Maharashtra state, near where the fire broke out, resulted in the death of 24 Covid-19 patients who were on ventilators, the report said.

To make terrible matters even worse, India reported its highest one-day number of cases, recording 332,730 new infections in a 24-hour period. In the same period, 2,263 people died with Covid-19.

India has been overwhelmed by new cases coupled with a critical shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, and now ventilators, the report said. Many desperate families have been forced to turn to black-market price gougers who have been able to buy hospital space from corrupt administrators.

The spike in cases comes as political rallies are still being held and after a month-long religious ceremony continues to bring millions of people to the Ganges River.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been criticized for not calling a national lockdown to try to mitigate the spread and for hosting rallies ahead of elections in May.

Meanwhile, All flights from the UAE to India — one of the world’s busiest air corridors — will be suspended from Sunday onward.

Price comparison websites showed one-way commercial flights from Mumbai to Dubai on Friday and Saturday costing as much as 80,000 rupees (US$1,000), around 10 times the usual rate.

Tickets for the New Delhi to Dubai route were going for more than 50,000 rupees, five times the normal level.

No tickets were on offer from Sunday when the 10-day flight suspension comes into force.

For private jets, the amount of interest was “absolutely crazy,” a spokesman for charter company Air Charter Service India told Agence France-Presse.

“We have 12 flights going to Dubai tomorrow and each flight is completely full,” the spokesman said.

“I’ve fielded almost 80 enquiries for flying to Dubai today alone,” said a spokesman for Enthral Aviation, another provider.

“We have requested more aircraft from abroad to meet the demand … It costs $38,000 to hire a 13-seater jet from Mumbai to Dubai, and $31,000 to hire a six-seater aircraft,” he told AFP.

“People are making groups and arranging to share our jets just to get a seat … We’ve had some queries for Thailand but mostly the demand is for Dubai.”

The UAE is home to roughly 3.3 million Indians who make up a third of the population — most of them in Dubai, one of the seven emirates that make up the federation. 

Seats on routes to the United States were still available but with prices substantially higher, in some cases almost double the normal fare.

How much does a private jet travel cost?

No-frills private travel can cost as little as US$4,000 on a business commuter jet or as much as US$40,000 to have a plane to yourself.

Several variables determine how much flying privately costs, chiefly the size of the plane and the number of hours it’s used.

A spokesman for Hong Kong-based APERTUS Aviation said renting an ultra long-range private aircraft from Mumbai to London, with a flight time of 09:15, would range from $US125,800 to $US148,600.

As a benchmark, the US-based Air Charter Service provides these “hourly” rental estimates for airplane rental in September 2020.

  • Light jet (4 to 6 passengers): $4,000 to $5,500
  • Medium jet (6 to 9 passengers): $5,500 to $9,500
  • Heavy jet (16 to 19 passengers): $11,000 to $20,000

Sources: The Daily Beast, The Jakarta Post, Agence France-PresseIndia TodayCBC NewsCNN TravelCanadian Press


Academy Advises FG to Shut Airports to Avoid COVID-19’s Third Wave - THISDAY

APRIL 26, 2021

•Nigeria to spend N1.89tn to wipe out Malaria, says Ehanire

BY  Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

The Academy of Medicine Specialties, together with its Rapid-Response initiative group, has advised the federal government to shut the country’s international airports for at least two weeks to avoid the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an urgent advisory issued yesterday, the President of the Academy of Medicine Specialties of Nigeria, Prof. Oladapo Ashiru, noted that the transmission of the third wave was still active but at a low level.

Ashiru said the low level transmission was due largely to the lockdowns going on in Europe and some countries. He further stated that the ongoing transmission in the country was caused largely by those inbound passengers from India and those countries with surges in the cases reported daily.

According to him, many of them travelled into Nigeria through indirect flights. He recommended that Nigeria’s testing strategy should still be PCR-based. shiru, however, added that some other Genes should be looked out for aside from the ‘S’ gene. “There is the urgent need to enforce the use of PTF regulations of social distancing, hand sanitisers/washing and wearing of face mask,” he said.

He reported that his team found five sequences of the India B.1.617 in the country, specifically in Edo and Osun states, adding that a new B.1. 1.318 variant that emerged in Nigeria with major characteristics of other VOCs was spread out of the country in January this year and was creating havoc in Mauritius Island.

“The B. 1. 525 that we discovered in Nigeria late last year is now the dominant variant in Nigeria (spreading faster than the UK B.1.1.7). This lineage is also spreading at a super-fast speed in the UK and other European countries.

“The B.1.525 is now also the second most popular variant in Africa after the B.1.351Y V2 from South Africa. These are our most recent findings at ACEGID, Redeemer’s University, Ede,” he explained.

He recommended that Nigeria should close the international airports to all flights for at least two weeks, stressing that the third wave was affecting not only India but France, Germany, and Italy.

Ashiru also called on the federal government to be proactive. “Nigeria cannot afford to have a third wave. Only a small percentage of the population has been vaccinated. Furthermore, all the theories speculated for our immunity such as heat, sun, and other endemic immunities also apply to India,” he said.

Vaccine Travel Rules Widen the Rift Between China and the West - BLOOMBERG

APRIL 26, 2021

(Bloomberg) --

With the resumption of global travel on the horizon, some people are discovering that their choice of vaccine could determine where they’re allowed to go.

Hong Kong citizen Marie Cheung travels to mainland China regularly for her work with an electric vehicle company, a routine that’s been interrupted by lengthy mandated quarantine stays since the pandemic began.

Of the two vaccine options available in the city -- one from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and another developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE -- Cheung plans to sign up for Sinovac for easier movement in and out of the mainland. Meanwhile, her British husband will go for the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, she says to boost his chances of visiting family in the U.K.

“For people who need to work in or return to mainland, the Chinese vaccine is the only option for them,” Cheung said. “Westerners will only choose the vaccine recognized by their home country.”

As inoculation efforts ramp up around the world, a patchwork of approvals across countries and regions is laying the groundwork for a global vaccine bifurcation, where the shot you get could determine which countries you can enter and work in. This is emerging most starkly in China, which so far recognizes only Chinese-made shots while its vaccines don’t have approval in the U.S. or Western Europe.

That’s forced some Chinese citizens who venture abroad regularly -- and western nationals wanting to pursue business opportunities in the world’s second-largest economy -- into a dilemma of what shot to opt for.

For millions of people worldwide who can’t choose which vaccines they get, the risk of more places becoming selective about which shots they recognize, especially given the vaccines’ varying efficacy rates, creates the possibility that even fully inoculated, people’s travel could still be limited -- with consequences for international business activity and the tourism industry.

What’s the Best Covid Vaccine? Why It’s Not So Simple: QuickTake

“A global division of peoples based around vaccine adoption will only exacerbate and continue the economic and political effects of the pandemic,” said Nicholas Thomas, associate professor in health security at the City University of Hong Kong. “It will risk the world being divided into vaccine silos based on vaccine nationalism rather than medical necessity.”

Mutual Recognition

Many countries have shut their borders amid the pandemic, some allowing entry only to citizens, and even then with weeks-long quarantines after arrival. While vaccines are seen as the way to remove those entry barriers, considerable uncertainty remains over how, or if, nations will differentiate the at least 11 shots available worldwide.

Governments from China to Europe are discussing vaccine passports -- easily accessible and verifiable certifications stating that an individual has been inoculated -- but it’s unclear if countries will pursue universal recognition of all shots, or be selective on which they choose to recognize, particularly with the rise of virus variants and questions over whether the current crop of vaccines are as effective against them.

China eased visa application requirements for foreigners who had been inoculated with Chinese shots in March, including the ability to skip Covid tests or fill out travel declaration forms. The country’s homegrown vaccines are only available in some countries, like Brazil, Pakistan and Serbia. You can’t get Sinovac or the other Chinese shots in the U.S.

But in a sign that Beijing may be cognizant of the economic costs of being selective on vaccines, the Chinese embassy in Washington said this week that travelers who had taken certain western shots could still enter the country if they were departing from Dallas in Texas. State media has indicated that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is likely to be approved mid-year.

“We do think that it’s important to get a very high percentage of the community vaccinated and the best way to do that is to offer choice,” said Ker Gibbs, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. As a key market and source of business for companies around the world, China’s border restrictions -- among the world’s strictest -- have “had a major impact on our ability to conduct business,” he said.

A Vaccine Passport Is the New Golden Ticket as the World Reopens

“Just speaking with our members, mobility is a high priority for us both in terms of allowing our executives to come in and out of China, but also to have their dependents travel back to China,” Gibbs said. “That’s been a big problem.”

China isn’t the only place that’s restricting access to people with certain vaccinations. Iceland currently omits Chinese and Russian vaccines from the list of those it approves for entry.

The question of vaccine recognition is a key one for tourism-dependent countries, with the $9 trillion global travel industry effectively paralyzed since the pandemic began. China’s approach to this issue may impact their decision-making, as Chinese tourists have been among the biggest groups of foreign visitors to travel hot spots in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand and capitals as far away as Paris before the pandemic.

There were 155 million outbound tourists in 2019 spending more than $133 billion abroad, according to the China Tourism Academy, a government think tank and subsidiary of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. While Indonesia, home to Bali, and Thailand have approved and are administering Chinese shots, New Zealand and Australia -- which has seen its relations with China deteriorate the past year over the virus and trade -- do not.

“I don’t know how practical it will be for western countries to recognize Chinese vaccines given the geopolitical environment,” said Ether Yin, a partner at Trivium China, a Beijing-based consultancy. “But there won’t be a true resumption of global travel or economy without the inclusion of China, plus dozens of economies who used Chinese vaccines.”

Katy Niu, a 26-year old Chinese citizen, is a skiing enthusiast and frequent traveler living in Beijing. It’s unclear whether she’ll be returning to international slopes like those in Japan’s Hokkaido anytime soon. Prior to the pandemic, she used to travel internationally at least three times a year, from shopping on Paris’s Champs Elysées to relaxing on a Southeast Asian beach.

Niu hasn’t gotten a vaccine yet, saying she didn’t feel any urgency since she’s not currently able to travel -- and doesn’t see it opening up in the near future.

“If other countries don’t recognize the Chinese vaccine, does that mean vaccination is not going to make a difference?” she said. “We are not offered a western vaccine anyways -- we don’t have a choice.”

UAE could stay on the UK’s travel ‘red list’ indefinitely, and mixed messages are stoking confusion - CNBC

APRIL 26, 2021

BY  Natasha Turak   AND   Dan Murphy


KEY POINTS

  • “We’re not restricting the UAE due to the level of coronavirus in the UAE,” U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said. “The issue is one of transit.”
  • Being on the U.K.’s red list comes with a high price, and has real consequences for the 120,000 Brits living in the Gulf country and their family members.


In this article

    Dubai is known for its modern architecture, including the Burj Khalifa, which at 2,700 feet tall is nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building. Dubai is known for its modern architecture, including the Burj Khalifa, which at 2,700 feet tall is nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building. Fraser Hall | The Image Bank | Getty Images

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The United Arab Emirates’ potentially indefinite status on the U.K.’s “red list” for travel has stoked anger and confusion, made more uncertain by the latest statements coming from the British government.

    Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps indicated the UAE might stay on the U.K.’s red list due to its status as an international transit hub, despite its falling infection trends and the world’s second-fastest vaccination campaign.

    “We’re not restricting the UAE due to the level of coronavirus in the UAE,” Shapps told an aviation event on Wednesday. “The issue is one of transit.”

    The comments drew sharp criticism from Emirates’ President Tim Clark: “Leaving us on the ‘red list’ for reasons of transit doesn’t make any sense because (passengers) can just go through other hubs,” he told a recent online event. “It compromises our United Kingdom operation for Emirates. It’s a real pity if they keep us on the red list.”

    Being on the U.K.’s red list comes with a high price, and has real consequences for the 120,000 Brits living in the Gulf country and their family members. It requires anyone entering the U.K. from a red list country to quarantine in a government-approved hotel and cover their own lodging and food costs for 10 days, at a cost of £1,750 ($2,428) per person.

    “If anyone asks me about home, I cry,” said one British citizen working in Dubai who hasn’t seen her family in the U.K. since mid-2020. 

    “The ambiguity is unbearable,” said the source, who asked not to be identified because of professional restrictions. “It is much easier to establish and maintain balance in your life when you make a plan — the U.K.’s interchanging positions make that impossible and it’s so detrimental to people’s well-being.”

    Photo by KARIM SAHIB | AFP via Getty Images People wait their turn to get vaccinated against the coronavirus at a vaccination center set up at the Dubai International Financial Center in the Gulf emirate of Dubai, on February 3, 2021. The UAE has administered at least three million doses to more than a quarter of its population. 1230948336

    The U.K. red list, which bans air travel or forces a costly quarantine on arrival, currently names 40 high risk countries deemed too dangerous to travel, including India, which has seen new infections skyrocket to over 300,000 cases a day. 

    The UAE remains on the list, despite infection rates falling to around 2,000 cases a day. Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, has placed the U.K. on its own “green” list of travel countries. CNBC has reached out to the U.K.’s Foreign Commonwealth Office for comment.

    Growing support 

    A petition to remove the UAE from the U.K. red list had received over 8,500 signatures as of April 26, reflecting a growing frustration over the travel restrictions and the cost of quarantine for one of the world’s busiest air travel routes. 

    “I want the Government to remove the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from the Red Ban List by the summer, so that travelers can visit the safe country without needing to quarantine in a hotel on return,” petitioner Mikael Aziz wrote. 

    The U.K. government is required to respond if the petition receives 10,000 signatures or more. 

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    “You need to reconsider Dubai being on the red list. Most of the UK citizens who work there are fully vaccinated and should be allowed to travel to the UK. They could take a PCR test before and on arrival.” Twitter user @DawnWilson2606 tweeted to U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

    Any decision to remove the UAE from the red list is further complicated by the difference in restrictions between Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The UAE’s most populous emirates have enforced separate access, travel, testing and quarantine rules since the start of the pandemic — despite being less than a two-hour drive apart.

    Red list removal ‘as soon as it is feasible’

    Amid the criticism and confusion over the latest travel restrictions, there are signs the predominantly-expatriate desert sheikhdom of 10 million could yet be removed from the red list.

    “We are working very closely with the UAE authorities to ensure that we can remove the UAE from the red list as soon as it is feasible,” said Simon Penney, the U.K. consul general to Dubai and trade commissioner to the Middle East. Penney’s comments came on April 21, the same day as Shapps’ suggestion that the UAE may stay on the red list.   

    The U.K. government is expected to review its ban on non-essential international travel from May 17, but it’s unclear what destinations will receive the tick of approval.

    Commuters cross London Bridge at sunrise on March 1, 2021 in London, England. Commuters cross London Bridge at sunrise on March 1, 2021 in London, England. Hollie Adams | Getty Images

    “It is too early today to say which countries will be on the green list and which ones won’t, and we will need to wait until early May before we have any further clarity,” Penney said during an interview with a Dubai radio station

    “The decisions taken are driven by data and science, and key to this includes the rollout of the vaccine, the number of daily cases, and the prevalence of harmful variants,” he added.

    The U.K. Foreign Office said it “advises against all but essential travel to the whole of the United Arab Emirates based on the current assessment of COVID-19 risks.” The UAE is outpacing most of the developed world on its vaccine rollout with almost 40% of its population fully inoculated.

    “Visitors arriving into the U.K. who have been in or transited through the UAE in the previous 10 days will not be permitted entry,” an April 25th advisory said.

    ‘A travel corridor worth reopening’

    “Countries’ positions on each other’s lists don’t have to be reciprocal,” Rob Willock, director of the advisory service Economist Corporate Network, told CNBC on Sunday.

    “But considering the UAE and U.K. are second and third respectively on the global vaccination league table, both having administered at least one vaccine to more than half of their population, one might imagine this is a travel corridor worth reopening.”

    WATCH NOW

    VIDEO03:05
    The remedy cannot be worse than the ailment, says Dubai Health Authority

    The U.K., one of Dubai’s largest sources of tourists and a critical travel route for Emirates, took the UAE off its “safe travel corridor” in January, as cases in Dubai began to skyrocket following an influx of U.K. travelers in November and December. 

    The UAE reported just over 2,000 new infections on Saturday. The country has administered 9.9 million vaccine doses so far. 

    U.S. travel warnings 

    It’s not just the U.K. that is holding short on opening up. The U.S. added more than 100 countries to its “Level 4: Do Not Travel” list last week, including Israel and the UAE.

    “Things change, and they will change over time,” Willie Walsh, IATA director general told CNBC when asked if the State Department got the advisories wrong. 

    Certain countries on the American list also have their own restrictions against travel by foreigners, while others will allow entry by air with proof of vaccination and a negative Covid test or other criteria. 

    “We’re not suggesting that you just remove all restrictions now,” Walsh said. “We’re asking governments to set out a plan to give an indication as to when they believe international air travel will start and how international air travel should operate when things do get moving again.”

    Airlines retain 100% fare hike over forex scarcity, Jet-A1 price spike - THE GUARDIAN

    APRIL 27, 2021

    • More than 25 aircraft stuck overseas due to liquidity crisis 

    • Experts hinge aviation survival on local refineries, special FX window, interlining arrangements 

    • It’s unfortunate to rely 100% on imported Jet A1, says Joji

    Despite disbursement of N5 billion bailout fund to support the aviation sector, there has been no improvement in the financial status or operational challenges facing local airlines, with most operators retaining high airfares across routes.

    A survey of airfares in the last couple of weeks showed an average of 100 per cent spike across major routes, compared to rates about a year ago. Some one-way economy class tickets were sold to desperate travellers for as high as N140, 000 – that is, over 300 per cent rise and more than half the price of a return-ticket on Lagos-London or Atlanta, Addis Ababa or Dubai route.

    Though operators blamed the “obnoxious” price regime on forces of demand and supply, The Guardian learnt that price pushback was not unconnected with airlines’ capacity constraint and fleet rationing that has lingered with forex scarcity, coupled with the recent spike in aviation fuel price.

    As a result of liquidity crisis, no fewer than 25 aircraft are stuck in maintenance facilities overseas. Air Peace airline, the largest fleet operator in the country, accounts for 17 of the stranded toll.

    x

    Stakeholders, made up of operators and commentators, regretted the prolonged hardship on travellers. They said the desperate situation should ease out with better monitoring of operators’ charges, local refining of Jet A1, special forex window for dollar-dependent industry and better cooperation in the form of interlining and code-sharing arrangement among operating carriers.

    The Federal Government recently disbursed the sum of N4 billion to airline operators and N1 billion to regulators and service providers to subsidise huge losses on account of the COVID-19 lockdown.

    Though the disbursement was adjudged meagre compared to COVID-19 induced devastation to aviation businesses, expectations were high that it would bring respite to liquidity constraints and scale down airfares from the rooftop as of last December.

    Nothing has improved as the market survey shows. Compared to an average of N30, 000 offered at resumption of local flights last July, online booking platforms as at the weekend, showed varying prices, ranging from N33, 065 to N65, 430 (one-way economy) and N70, 040 to N105, 203 (return), depending on airline of choice, destination, place and time of booking.

    The latest transport survey of the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), released last week, also showed that average passenger airfare paid for a specified route single journey increased by 18.71 per cent year-on-year.

    NBS showed that the average airfare rose to N36, 495.41 in March 2021 from N36, 458.11 in February 2021. States with highest airfare were Anambra/Lagos (N38, 600.00), Delta/Jigawa (N38, 500.00), Bauchi (N38, 450.00) while states with lowest airfare were Akwa-Ibom (N32, 700.00), Sokoto (N33, 200.00), and Katsina (N35, 150.00).

    HOWEVER, over-the-counter booking and today’s flights across all routes showed far higher rates than shown by online platforms and NBS’s estimates. Bookings at the airport attract the highest rates, ranging from N55, 000 to N86, 500 on one-way Economy Class. Penultimate weekend, an air traveller bought an Abuja-Lagos one-way ticket over-the-counter for N120, 000. Another passenger in Kano, en route Lagos, was charged N140, 000 on one of the major carriers. Charges on the northern region are particularly cut-throat since the exit of Azman Air over safety concerns.

    Chief Operating Officer of one of the local carriers denied a blanket increase in airfares, explaining that the “occasional surge” in prices was peculiar to individual airlines and its experience in getting scarce foreign exchange to meet maintenance obligations.

    “Accessing forex is a general problem that is not peculiar to airlines. But we are in a sector that is 100 per cent dependent on dollars, though selling tickets in very weak naira. We have not been able to access forex at CBN-rate lately, but because I needed to get an aircraft back in operation and not to keep passengers stranded, I decided to buy dollars at black market rate of N480/$, perhaps to do maintenance worth $2.5 million.

    “Is it reasonable to put passengers on that aircraft at the rate of N30, 000? If we do, we will soon run out of business and there will be no aviation industry the next time a passenger comes calling. Don’t also forget that aviation fuel now costs N270-plus per litre outside Lagos and Abuja, because of marketers’ monopoly.

    “In this circumstance, if I have to sell a one-way ticket for N70, 000 to recoup my cost of operation alone, so be it. And sadly, we would continue to have the same narrative until the economic indices are right or the government deploys a stop-gap measure like a special FX window for some critical sectors like aviation,” he said.

    While new airlines like United Nigeria Airline have joined the sector to bolster capacity, the impact was yet to be felt by consumers as several of the existing fleet of airlines are either overseas or grounded, awaiting maintenance and its heavy cost.

    Chief Operating Officer of Air Peace Airline, Oluwatoyin Olajide, confirmed that 17 aircraft were undergoing varying levels of maintenance overseas.

    Olajide said they were doing everything possible to return the aircraft one after the other to launch more routes and resume others that were temporarily suspended.

    Chairman of United Nigeria Airline, Obiora Okonkwo, said: “CBN has not given dollars to airlines since February 2021 owing to scarcity of the currency. Aircraft business is capital intensive. The solution to survival of airlines is better access to spare parts. But aircraft spare parts are not sold here in Nigeria; they are sold overseas. Aviation industry should be given all the necessary support to ensure survival of airlines.”

    SIMILARLY, the rise in the cost of aviation fuel, from N160 to N260 per litre, in the last few days, was also blamed for over 50 per cent rise in the cost of airfares.

    Okonkwo said that airlines would in most cases resort to increasing fares through adjustment in ticket price as a result of the high cost of the commodity.

    The airline chief, however, said he would want to believe that the operators would be unreasonable, fixing ticket prices that are beyond the reach of customers.

    Okonkwo said, instead of unhealthy competition, airlines might be condemned to interline and codeshare arrangement with one another, to scale the hurdle, adding that his airline was willing and ready to have such a relationship.

    Chief Executive Officer of Skypower Express Airways, Capt. Mohammed Joji, said it was unfortunate the sector still imports aviation fuel 100 per cent.

    “It is sad and unbelievable that a country with three refineries cannot refine Jet A1 for local use. Someone must be sabotaging the system; otherwise we have no business importing fuel. The refineries are strategically located. Kaduna refinery takes care of the north, while Warri takes care of the south.

    “As it is, you cannot travel from Maiduguri to Lagos by road anymore. So, you need to fly and you need fuel. We only need to refine the product locally and make it cheap, and about 40 per cent of the cost will reduce,” Joji said.

    He, however, stressed that the local operators should have no good justification for the haywire price regime, given that the Federal Government had given duty-free on commercial aircraft and spare parts coming into the country.

    Former commandant of the Lagos Airport and aviation security consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), disagreed with Joji on pricing. Ojikutu reckoned that airlines might, for once, be charging the right fares commensurate with economic realities.

    He recalled that from the 1990s to date, exchange rates had spiked several times without airlines changing ticket fares. He said it was no surprise that the airlines continued to struggle, owing service providers and regulatory agencies deductions of five per cent Ticket Sales Charge (TSC) and Passenger Services Charge (PSC), just to stay afloat.

    “Rather than these airlines applying or charging appropriate fares for their flights, they target public money to make up for losses. They cannot be charging $100 (N3, 800/N4, 000) when exchange rate was N40/$ in 1990, and still be charging less than N40, 000 today when dollar is N500/$.

    “It does not make economic sense today when all aircraft parts and even fuel is imported as against the local availability in the 80s/90s. The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) can regulate but there is no problem with the increase if dollar sells for N500. Airfare to places of one hour flight distance can and should not be less than $100 or N50, 000,” Ojikutu said.

    Nigerian government warns against travelling to India, Brazil, Turkey, South Africa - DAILY POST

    APRIL 27, 2021

    The Federal Government of Nigeria has warned citizens against travelling to countries that are recording a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The countries that are currently recording a third wave of the pandemic are India, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey.

    The National Incident Manager (NIM) of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, Dr. Mukhtar Muhammad, disclosed this at the media briefing by the committee on Monday.

    Muhammad also warned Nigerians against shunning safety protocols against COVID-19, insisting that the virus was not over.

    He said, “While we continue to reopen the economy, we must also be aware of the happenings around the globe. Mr Chairman (Boss Mustapha) and the Honourable Minister of Health (Osagie Ehanire) have made reference to specific incidents in India, Turkey, Brazil and South Africa.

    “We sympathise with the people of these countries [India, Brazil, South Africa and Turkey] because it is really a very trying time, particularly for India that is recording over 300,000 cases a day and recording over 2,000 deaths.

    “India is a prime destination for medical tourism for Nigeria. We know that many Nigerians like to travel – to go to India but now… we urge Nigerians to limit all travels to only essential travels, particularly to these affected countries.”

    All international airports’ll become fully operational soon – FG - PUNCH

    APRIL 27, 2021

    BY  ’Femi Asu




    The quantity of foreign exchange used for oil imports in 2020 was $1.32bn, compared to $2.10bn in 2019, the latest data from the Central Bank of Nigeria have shown.

    The CBN’s data on sectoral utilisation for transactions valid for forex revealed that $148.32m was utilised in January for oil imports; $145.23m in February, and $139.55m in March.

    Forex for oil import transactions fell to $113.80m in April and $109.11m in May but rose to $114.57m in June.

    It stood at $77.36m in July; $82.37m in August; $72.63m in September; $78.86m in October; $92.91m in November and $146.95m in December.

    Although the CBN did not specify the oil imported into the country, Nigeria’s oil imports consist mainly of petrol, diesel and kerosene.

    Fuel consumption and imports plunged to record low in the second quarter of 2020 amid the lockdown imposed by the Federal Government to contain the spread of COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

    The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation has been the major importer of petroleum products and sole importer of petrol into the country in recent years amid a lack of full deregulation in the downstream oil sector and scarcity of forex.

    The PUNCH reported exclusively in March that the amount spent on the importation of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) rose by 17.54 per cent to N2.11tn last year, based on data obtained from the National Bureau of Statistics.

    The nation’s forex reserves have been fluctuating in recent months, rising from a low of $34.42bn on March 18 to $35.25bn on April 16. The reserves dropped to $35.09bn on April 23, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria.

    The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry said earlier this month that the difficulties faced by many investors in Nigeria in accessing forex for importation of raw materials, equipment and some critical inputs for production and processing was putting investments and jobs at risk.

     “For the purpose of establishing Letters of Credit and Bills for Collection for the importation of petroleum products, authorised dealers shall forward to the Director, Trade and Exchange Department (of the CBN), all relevant supporting documents for consideration prior to commencement of the transaction,” the central bank said last year in its monetary, credit, foreign trade and exchange policy guidelines.

    It added, “Furthermore, the CBN shall be notified within 48 hours by the authorised dealers before bidding for funds to pay for such transactions.”

    Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, relies largely on importation for petrol and other refined products as its refineries have remained in a state of disrepair for many years.

    Emirates airline to resume flights to Nigeria - BUSINESSDAY

    APRIL 27, 2021

    BY Ifeoma Okeke


    The Director-General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Musa Nuhu, on Monday, said Emirates airline will soon resume its flight operations in and out of Nigeria.

    Nuhu while speaking during a briefing of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19 said there are ongoing discussions with the airline and the outcome would be disclosed within the next 48 hours.

    The Nigerian government in March banned the airline from operating in the country over its continuous refusal to fly passengers without a pre-boarding rapid diagnostic test (RTD’s).

    “As regards the issue of emirates airline resumption of flight to Nigeria, the PSC deliberated extensively on this matter and the gap has been significantly closed between the position of Nigeria and the United Arab Emirate (UAE),” he said.

    “They have met some of our requirements and we are just waiting for one confirmation.”

    Nuhu also said Port Harcourt and Enugu international airports will soon resume international flights.

    “Three airports: Kano, Port Harcourt, and Enugu, were declared by the PTF to resume international flights.

    “Kano has resumed, Port Harcourt is almost there, just a few things to go and in the next couple of days, we expect Port Harcourt to be released for resumption of international flights.

    “Hopefully in a couple of weeks, Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu will join the list making a total of five international airports that will resume international flights.”

    Securing airports against terror attacks - PUNCH

    APRIL 28, 2021

    Punch Editorial Board


    THE alarm raised by the Federal Government over plans by some criminals to attack major airports across the country has further heightened the security challenges facing Africa’s most populous country. Despite being plagued with leadership incompetence and a faltering economy, Nigeria also gasps in the grip of terrorism, banditry, and kidnapping. The threat to attack airports is a new dimension that must be prevented at all costs.

    The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria said that it received an alert from the Ministry of Aviation on plans to attack the airports. It listed the targeted airports to include the ones in Lagos, Abuja, Kaduna, Maiduguri, Sokoto and Kano. Improving airport security and effective criminal justice responses founded on a strong legal regime are essential elements for countering civil aviation terrorist acts.

    Experts say that the aviation sector remains an attractive terrorist target due to its importance to the global economy and the opportunity to inflict mass casualties. It is striking that the Federal Government quickly rose to the occasion by directing the FAAN to immediately enumerate “appropriate counter-measures for the safety of airports/facilities” to combat the risk and call an emergency meeting of airport security committees to “study the current state of airport security, jointly recommend corrective steps and share responsibility for successful implementation.” The government has also reinforced the level of security at Abuja, Lagos, Kano, and other identified airports across the country. The reinforcement was part of measures deployed to tackle any form of attack by criminals.

    But security agents need to be vigilant and ensure collaborative efforts to ward off threats at the airports. Criminal elements had in the past issued threats to attack critical national assets only for the security agencies to exhibit bravado which soon waned a few weeks after. The United Nations headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory was attacked in 2011 where some lost their lives and others were injured. The country’s security chiefs should quickly proceed to examine the warning and gather adequate intelligence to halt attempts to attack any of the airports and other major national assets.

    This is not the time to engage in rhetoric as emblematic of the nation’s security heads. Security experts have noted that past abduction of pupils in a school in Chibok, Borno State, should be enough for security forces to comprehend the kidnapping style of criminals to frustrate the activities. But sadly, nothing was learned from that episode. Rather than decreasing, kidnappings, violent attacks and killings are increasing with more daring styles introduced into the illicit acts. After the Chibok incident, pupil abduction has occurred in Dapchi, Yobe State; Zamfara, Katsina and lately Kaduna states with other incidents of kidnapping reported across other states.

    The nation’s security forces need to embrace preventive models and not knee-jerk approaches. This is the area deserving outstanding work. Their operation should be intelligence-driven and explore collaborations with international security agencies to gather intelligence and record successes in covert operations. They should know that no foreign security services rely solely on their own intelligence efforts alone. The United Kingdom, the United States and Canada among other countries, usually share signals intelligence with their allies to reinforce joint resilience in arresting potential threats. Nigeria should join the rest of the world in best practices. It ought to be working diligently to provide at-risk people, buildings, and national assets with modern security. It should be prepared to counter modern terrorism with intelligence and new technologies.

    Nigeria’s security services must significantly improve on intelligence-sharing to effectively deliver premium security apparatus in safeguarding the country both internally and against external aggressors. The country’s failure to utilise intelligence was also dwelt on by one of the ambassadorial nominees, who retired as the Chief of Defence Intelligence, Muhammad Usman. He disclosed that his office had an intelligence report that Boko Haram insurgents would kidnap Dapchi girls. He said, “There was an intelligence report on Dapchi before it occurred. We saw indicators building up, but it was not managed properly. State governors have a role to play because if you are given intelligence, we expect troops to move in, but this does not happen in the North-East because of bad roads and difficult terrains.”

    The Nigerian government was accused by the international community of not acting on intelligence reports when a team of military and intelligence experts in Nigeria were embedded and spy planes sent with thermal imaging to search for the missing Chibok girls after locating them from the skies above a forest thrice the size of Wales.

    In this regard, every effort to protect the airports must be calculatedly executed and no one, no matter how highly placed, should be allowed to compromise security directives at the airports.  Passengers and workers within the airport premises should show responsibility because security is everybody’s business. They should be on the alert and swiftly report perceived threats to the security forces. This is not the time for security agents to display overzealousness. Vigilance should be the watchword of everyone to collectively frustrate the antics of criminals.

    Airports across the world now have stringent security measures to counter raging terrorism threats. Authorities in Nigeria’s airports should urgently perform security audits to replace non-functional facilities, improve screening lanes, install security cameras and boost mobile patrols to passably secure the facilities which are the gateways to the country. Countries should work together to share information, technology, and best practices on aviation security.

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