With the United Kingdom, United States of America and Singapore, the European Union, Brazil, among others, placing travel restrictions against a number of countries in southern Africa, because of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, there are concerns that the world might experience another wave of economic meltdown, owing to lockdowns.
For many economies dependent on commodities trading, there are concerns for the recovery recently recorded as oil prices slumped by over 10 per cent across the board, hovering at $72 a barrel from the rally of $80.
The black liquid benchmarks had one of their worst weekly performances last week with both contracts losing over $10 a barrel on Friday, representing their largest one-day drop since April 2020.
A new variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, which is reportedly vaccine-resistant, caused panic selling of the black liquid.
The sharp drop in oil prices is not helped by release of 70 million barrels of crude oil – about two days of the OPEC+ output – from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) of the United States, in a bid to lower high gasoline prices.
It is feared that the reintroduction of targeted travel bans could slow the recent recovery in air travel right before the holiday season, and stall operations that are just making a restart after a long layover.
For Nigeria, the Nigerian flag carrier, Air Peace, and embattled South African Airways (SAA) are anxiously waiting for the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to take a decision on flights from South Africa, in response to the Omicron discovery. While Air Peace currently operates the Lagos-Johannesburg route, SAA is making a return to the Lagos route on December 12.
As at Sunday, Air Peace said its Johannesburg scheduled flights remain in operation, but stakeholders query the “laid back” approach of the Federal Government to such emergencies.
“Keeping quiet, as usual, will not be in our interest as a country. Besides the risk of bringing the virus home, Nigeria also risks ban by the rest of the world once the variant is detected here. If U.S., Europe and the likes are placing restrictions, then it is a serious issue that Nigeria should not take lightly in our casual manner,” Bankole Bernard, chairman of the Airline Passenger Joint Committee of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said.
Globally, the South African route is fast becoming a no-flight zone with attendant effects on shares of European airlines. IAG shares fell by 14.8 per cent, Lufthansa by 12.8 per cent, and Air-France-KLM 9.7 per cent, Easyjet 11.4 per cent and Ryanair 12.1 per cent.
There are 122 flights between the U.S. and South Africa scheduled for December, according to aviation consulting firm, Cirium.
United, which has the most scheduled service with 87 flights, is set to resume nonstop flights between its Newark, New Jersey hub and Cape Town next month.
British Airways will operate 214 flights between London and South Africa next month, while Virgin Atlantic will operate 75, according to Cirium.
On Sunday, Dubai International Airport-based Emirates suspended flights to three African countries until further notice. In a statement, the Gulf State carrier announced that it will be suspending flights to and from South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe from November 27, in its containment efforts against the Omicron variant.
The government of Indonesia has banned the entry of travelers who have been in eight African countries, including Nigeria, and extended quarantine times for all arrivals to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. The ban extends to people who have been in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini or Nigeria in the past 14 days.
First discovered in South Africa, Omicron has since been recorded in the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and the United Kingdom.