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Quarantines hurting Mideast aviation recovery: IATA

Strict quarantine measures imposed by African and Middle Eastern nations are preventing the travel industry from getting back off the ground, threatening further losses and bankruptcies, the International Air Transport Association warned Thursday.

Countries in the Middle East imposed sweeping shutdowns to combat the spread of the coronavirus, halting flights and closing airports.

Some regional airlines have resumed partial operations but with requirements including testing and quarantine on arrival.

“Government-imposed quarantine measures in 36 countries across Africa and the Middle East account for 40 percent of all quarantine measures globally,” IATA vice president for Africa and the Middle East, Muhammad Albakri, told a virtual press conference.

“With over 80 percent of travellers unwilling to travel when quarantine is required, the impact of these measures is that countries remain in lockdown even if their borders are open,” Albakri said.

In its latest forecast released Thursday, IATA said that Middle East airlines are estimated to lose some 56 percent of their revenue and 55 percent of passengers this year compared to 2019.

“Losses continue to pile up, airlines continue to bleed… it’s an abnormal situation, it cannot be tolerated (and) nobody can survive this lockdown,” Albakri warned.

“Mideast carriers are estimated to lose $37 for every passenger they carry in 2020,” while in Africa, the loss is $42 per passenger, he said.

Emirates, the Middle East’s largest carrier, said on Thursday it has refunded some $517 million during the past two months for customers who did not travel because of the pandemic.

The Dubai carrier said it has processed refund requests for 650,000 customers and plans to process additional requests for half a million people within the next two months.

“This pandemic is a black swan event no one expected, impacting travellers and hitting the airline and travel industry hard,” chief commercial officer Adnan Kazim said.

Albakri urged governments in the region to provide urgent financial help to airlines, saying that worldwide $123 billion had been pledged to help the industry, with just $800 million coming from Middle Eastern and African nations.

“Our concern is we are going to lose a lot of these carriers,” if life support is not provided, he said.

Albakri said that a balance should be established between protecting the health of citizens and restarting economies, and called on governments to “implement alternatives to quarantine on arrival.”