US$400m later, Zambia opens airports

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Jeff Kapembwa

Lusaka – After missing out on potential tourism receipts amounting to around US$400 million, Zambia has re-opened four major airports that had been shut down as part of lockdown measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.

As of last week, 18 Zambians had succumbed to the novel coronavirus, after recording 1,477 cases and 1,213 recoveries.

With airports reopened, the Presidency cautioned the public to continue adhering to health regulations and to observe all precautions as the battle against COVID-19 was far from over.

Aviation sector stakeholders were strongly warned to ensure full adherence to practices like handwashing, testing passengers and observing the social distancing norms that the pandemic has come with.

President Edgar Lungu directed the ministries of tourism, finance and interior to follow up on passenger testing and quarantine regulations.

With tourism losses estimated to have dug a US$400 million hole, and thousands of jobs lost, President Lungu - in a national address last week – said the total corona-induced bill to the economy could be in the region of K21 billion (US$1,1 billion).

He said government expenditure would have to increase by a similar sum, adding that depreciation of the kwacha meant bigger debt repayments and higher import costs.

On the loss of tourism revenue, Tourism Minister Ronald Chitotela added: "Experts have done a projection and jobs are being threatened in the tourism sector."

In aviation alone, losses are estimated at US$2.4 million.

Zambia Civil Aviation Authority executive director Gabriel Lesa said, “…given the situation, we expect a revenue loss in the range of US$2.4 million … as a result of COVID-19.”

Aircraft across the globe have been grounded for the better part of 2020, and experts in the sector place potential losses at about 81 percent – or US$113 billion - of projected annual revenues.

Global aviation industry regulator IATA said airline share prices had fallen nearly 25 percent since December 2019 when the virus surfaced in Wuhan, China.

However, a US$13 fall in oil prices since January will offset some of the losses.

"This could cut costs by up to US$28 billion on the 2020 fuel bill which would provide some relief but would not significantly cushion the devastating impact that COVID-19 is having on demand," IATA said in a statement.

The UN World Health Organisation, which has declared COVID-19 an international health emergency, recently updated the global risk assessment to "very high", and advised against unnecessary travel.

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