Passengers wearing face masks and disposable ponchos get their passports checked at Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. UN News photo by Jing Zhang.

Counting the Cost of COVID-19: Global Aviation and Tourism Industries Set to Lose Billions

The United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has produced some preliminary forecasts relating to the expected economic impacts from COVID-19 (Novel Coronavirus) travel bans on international air connectivity.

ICAO currently reports that some 70 airlines have cancelled all international flights to/from mainland China, and that a further 50 airlines have curtailed related air operations. This has resulted in an 80% reduction of foreign airline capacity for travelers directly to/from China, and a 40% capacity reduction by Chinese airlines.

Prior to the outbreak, airlines had planned to increase capacity by 9% on international routes to/from China for the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019.

ICAO’s preliminary estimates indicate that the first quarter of 2020 has instead seen an overall reduction ranging from 39% to 41% of passenger capacity, or a reduction of 16.4 to 19.6 million passengers compared to what airlines had projected. This equates to a potential reduction of USD 4 to 5 billion in gross operating revenues for airlines worldwide.

The above estimates do not include potential impacts due to reductions in international air freight movements on cargo-only aircraft, airports, air navigation service providers, to Chinese domestic air traffic, or to international traffic with respect to the Hong Kong and Macau Special Administrative Regions of China, or its Taiwan Province.

With respect to major tourism-related impacts in the first quarter of 2020 due to reductions in Chinese air travelers, ICAO estimates that Japan could lose USD 1.29 billion in tourism revenue, followed by Thailand at USD 1.15 billion.

The agency also noted that COVID-19 impacts are expected to be greater than those caused by the 2003 SARS epidemic, in light of the higher volume and greater global extent of the flight cancellations being seen. Seasonal passenger load factors are another extenuating factor, as is the fact that China’s international air traffic has doubled, and its domestic traffic increased five-fold, since the 2003 period.

ICAO stressed that these are preliminary figures and forecasts, and that they do not yet take into account the more comprehensive assessments of direct and indirect COVID-19 economic impacts which will eventually be determined.

On February 14, ICAO urged countries to act on formalizing their membership in ICAO’s Collaborative Arrangement for the Prevention and Management of Public Health Events in Civil Aviation (CAPSCA), to effectively establish a National Air Transport Facilitation Committee, and to clarify the roles and responsibilities of public health and civil aviation authorities during outbreaks, in order to support the continuous, safe, and orderly operation of global air services.

“We’re urging ICAO’s Member States to collaborate and coordinate on their national and regional preparedness and responses, and also to consider providing financial or in-kind support to the CAPSCA program, including through the secondment of personnel, so that it can enhance its effectiveness in these scenarios,” commented ICAO Secretary General Dr. Fang Liu. “Increased financing is critical to the sustainability of this key global health and travel coordination mechanism relevant to contagious outbreaks.”

“The COVID-19 outbreak and its impact on airports’ operations globally, underpin the important role of public health authorities at air borders, and the need for an effective national policy framework on air transport facilitation to establish clear roles and responsibilities of the various ministries, agencies and organizations involved with or responsible for air transport facilitation,” Dr. Liu said.

In view of the urgency of the COVID-19 outbreak, the international community is mobilizing to find ways to significantly accelerate the development of interventions including vaccines and therapeutics.

Nearly 400 world scientists met at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Geneva Headquarters from 11 to 12 February to assess the current level of knowledge about the new COVID-19 virus, agree on critical research questions that need to be answered urgently, and identify ways to work together to accelerate and fund priority research that can contribute to curtail this outbreak and prepare for future outbreaks. The meeting was organized by WHO, in collaboration with the Global Research Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness.

Research topics discussed included: COVID-19 virus natural history, transmission and diagnostics; animal and environmental research on the virus origin; management measures at the human-animal interface; epidemiological studies; clinical characterization and management; infection prevention and control, including healthcare workers’ protection; candidate therapeutics R&D; candidate vaccines R&D; ethical considerations for research; and integrating social sciences in the outbreak response.

Experts identified key knowledge gaps and research priorities, and shared scientific data on ongoing research, thereby accelerating the generation of critical scientific information to contribute to the control the COVID-19 outbreak. There was broad consensus on the need for research to focus on actions that can save lives now to ensure that those affected are promptly diagnosed and receive optimal care.

Eight immediate research priorities were agreed as part of this Forum:

  1. Mobilize research on rapid point of care diagnostics for use at the community level.
  2. Assess available data to learn what standard of care approaches from China and elsewhere are the most effective.
  3. Evaluate as fast as possible the effect of adjunctive (given in addition to the main treatment) and supportive therapies.
  4. Optimize the use of protective equipment and other infection prevention and control measures in health care and community settings.
  5. Review all available evidence to identify animal host(s), prevent continued spill-over and better understand virus transmissibility in different contexts over time, the severity of disease and individuals more susceptible to infection.
  6. Accelerate the evaluation of investigational therapeutics and vaccines by using “Master Protocols”.
  7. Maintain a high degree of communication and interaction among funders so that critical research is implemented.
  8. Broadly and rapidly share virus materials, clinical samples and data for immediate public health purposes.

On February 14, WHO reiterated that it does not recommend any specific health measures for travelers. In case of symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness either during or after travel, travelers are encouraged to seek medical attention and share their travel history with their health care provider.

 

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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