As COVID-19 deepens in countries across the world, some African countries are set to reopen airports despite the widespread Coronavirus cases.
Prior to the announcement, two chartered Air Seychelles flights carrying more than 200 passengers also brought the coronavirus. A few tested positive. Then, between June 24 and 30, the country’s confirmed cases shot from 11 to 81.
In a related development, the Indian Ocean nation has delayed reopening for commercial flights for its lucrative tourism industry until Aug. 1, if all goes well.
African nations face a difficult choice as infections are rapidly rising: Welcome the international flights that originally brought COVID-19 to the continent, or further hurt their economies and restrict a lifeline for badly needed humanitarian aid.
“This is a very important moment,” the World Health Organization’s Africa chief, Matshidiso Moeti, told reporters on Thursday, a day after Egypt reopened its airports for the first time in more than three months.
Other countries are preparing to follow suit. That’s even as Africa had more than 463,000 confirmed virus cases as of Sunday (July 5) and South Africa, its most developed economy, already struggles to care for COVID-19 patients.
And she suggested that “when we see a flare-up that is unacceptable” in virus cases, the loosening of travel restrictions could be reversed.
The WHO recommends that countries look at whether the need to fight widespread virus transmission outweighs the economic benefits of opening borders. “It is also crucial to determine whether the health system can cope with a spike in imported cases,” it says.
Regional leaders of the International Air Transport Association and Airports Council International are ready to go. In an open letter to African ministers last month, they welcomed global guidelines developed by the ICAO for the return to travel after the aviation industry’s “biggest challenge of its history.”
They also urged African countries to “identify every opportunity where travel restrictions could be lifted … as soon as the epidemiological situation allows for it.”
As the continent slowly takes flight, some European nations and others are limiting entry to people from countries they feel are doing a good job of containing the virus. African nations can seize the moment and do more tourism at home, Amani Abou-Zeid, AU commissioner for infrastructure and energy, told reporters last week.
“This is an opportunity to encourage Africans to see Africa,” she said. Not always. The 70 recently infected people in the Seychelles, all crew members from West African countries meant to work on tuna fishing vessels, were isolated on boats in a special quarantine zone in the harbor in the capital.