The resumption of domestic flights in Nigeria and other countries in Africa yesterday came as a huge relief to air travelers who have gone through traumatic experiences as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic and its consequential socio-economic lockdown had forced the airlines to suspend operations since March 27, 2020.
It is, however, pertinent that the relevant safety measure and protocol issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) be fully observed to avoid another round of flight suspension by the regulatory agencies. WHO, for instance, has warned Nigeria and other African countries to continue to mitigate the risk of a surge in coronavirus infections as they begin to reopen airports.
Admitting that resumption of land and air transport operations is vital for the free flow of goods and people, the WHO acknowledged that lockdowns along with public health measures reduced the spread of coronavirus.
The Regional Director for Africa, Mr. Matshidiso Moeti, said, “Air travel is vital to the economic health of countries. But as we take to the skies again, we cannot let our guard down. Our new normal still requires stringent measures to stem the spread of Covid-19. The resumption of commercial flights in Africa will facilitate the delivery of crucial supplies such as testing kits, personal protective equipment and other essential health commodities to areas which need them most.”
WHO advised countries to assess the epidemiological situation to determine whether maintaining restrictions outweighs the economic costs of reopening borders.The agency said it was also crucial to determine whether the health system can cope with a spike in imported cases and whether the surveillance and contact tracing system can reliably detect and monitor cases.
The United Nations body recommended that countries have systems in place at points of entry at airports. WHO reiterated that the observance of preventive measures such as personal hygiene, cough etiquette, physical distancing, among others, remained crucial, adding that passengers should be registered and followed up if they develop symptoms.
On its part, the Nigerian government has barred all non-travelling aides of public office holders and very important personalities (VIPs) from gaining access into the airport terminal as part of the measures and aviation protocol designed to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease and ensure safety of passengers and workers in the aviation sector.
The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, during Monday’s briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19, said that this measure applies especially to governors, ministers, National Assembly members, judicial officers and military officers as the practice of having their personal assistants and special assistants, who they insist on seeing them off up to the aircraft though not travelling with them, would be stopped.
‘’Henceforth, all VIPs will no longer be permitted to bring non-travelling aides into the airport terminals. This especially applies to governors, ministers, NASS members, judiciary and military officers,’’ the minister said.
While speaking on the new procedures during this Covid-19 era, the minister said that mandatory temperature and symptoms checks will be carried out at the airport terminals and frequent washing of hands should be done at the airports. He also said that face masks must be worn at all times inside the airport and airplane and anyone who does not do that will not be allowed inside the airport terminals.
He pointed out that physical distancing will be maintained at all times just as unruly passengers will not be allowed to board the aircraft or fly as no pilot will be allowed to fly a plane carrying an unruly passenger. He revealed that the processes of compression, heating, cooling and filtration that aircraft cabin air is subjected to, takes out 99.9 per cent of all organisms including viruses, etc. that’s why cabin air is safer than most other environments.
The aviation minister also stated that operators in the aviation sector, including airlines, ground handling firms and others, will be given loan at 5 per cent interest rate with effect from 2021. He, however, noted that the modalities for the loan are being worked out with the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning.
It would be recalled that Sirika stated this in an interactive session with the senate committee on aviation where he said that any VIP coming into the airport this time around as a personality, minister or even members of the National Assembly will not be carrying their aides into the airports anymore.
We acknowledge the advantages of air travel, especially for its safety and the facilitating of movements of business moguls and top bureaucrats and politicians who have to shuttle, almost on a daily basis, between major cities and towns for their routine itinerary. It is, however, important to stress the need for the observance of the rules on Covid-19 in order to avoid its spread and ultimately end the menace of the deadly virus.