Lusaka, Thursday, April 16, 2020: Road and air transport have borne the brunt of the Coronavirus impact as countries put stringent measures to stop the spread of the pandemic. Border congestion, which have been a persistent headache in better times have worsened, with ripple effects on sanitation services.
In aviation, the grounding of aircraft poses the biggest threat to the survival of the airlines given that most of them were struggling even prior to the pandemic. This sector has been central to the transmission of COVID 19 owing to its global connectivity.
This can however be turned around by enlisting the services of the two sectors to contribute to the eventual control of the pandemic. Pursuant to this, the Division of Infrastructure, COMESA Secretariat, has developed proposals to help the two sectors withstand the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Director of Infrastructure, Mr. Jean Baptiste Mutabazi says, the two sectors are central to underpinning efforts towards effective containment of the pandemic if deployed properly.
“Chances of having passenger airline resuming operations soon are minimal and losses are expected to deepen with more consequences on the airline industry,” Mr. Mutabazi observes. “In view of this challenge, it will be prudent for airlines and governments to adopt strategies that will mitigate their losses, while at the same time reinforcing efforts towards containing the pandemic.”
Due to the heavy reliance on road transport in the region for movement of goods, Mr. Mutabazi says there is need to manage and not block transport corridors in the wake of the COVID pandemic to avoid breaking supply chains.
“It is proposed that COMESA Member States work closely with a clear common approach to allow for exemption of movement of essential supplies,” he says. “This will reduce serious disruption of the supply chain for medical supplies, food (particularly perishables) and fuel, which will derail efforts to contain the virus in the region.”
To achieve this, the Director, says countries could agree on a common list of essential supplies, which should be exempted from the lock down measures. Further, transport operators delivering such supplies can be identified and allowed to operate on rotational basis to continue with freight movement. This could be done in consultation with Transport Associations and in line with best practices to prevent any possibility of COVID 19 transmission.
To facilitate clearance of essential supplies, Customs Authorities could develop common systems for pre-clearance before the goods reach the borders to minimize delays at border crossings.
In the aviation sector, opportunities should be given to the airlines to transport COVID 19 essential supplies using passenger aircrafts to help them recoup some of the revenue loses.
“Passenger aircrafts can be used on chartered cargo operations and transport for relief workers, emergency medical supplies and food aid in support of COVID 19 relief effort among others,” Mr Mutabazi notes.
Aircraft owners and civil aviation authorities may also use this period to maintain, repair and/or overhaul their aircraft and facilities, positioning for immediate deployment once the pandemic challenge is overcome.