Several countries have imposed tight travel restrictions on air services with multiple African nations over the Omicron spread. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Even as more African destinations are added to the no-fly list, air fares between the UAE to other countries on the Continent are recording sharp escalations.

A one-stop flight from Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, to Dubai will cost passengers anywhere between Dh2,000 and Dh6,000. A flight from Addis Ababa, depending on the transit hub, can cost passengers as little as Dh1,800 and on the higher end, around Dh8,000 or more.

Kenya Airways is seen operating some direct flights from Nairobi to Dubai between January 7 and January 10, potentially for passengers falling in the exempted categories such as UAE Nationals or golden visa holders. An Emirates airline flight on the same route is charging more than Dh10,000 on January 11.

“It isn't just travellers from the handful of countries that are not able to travel, but the inclusion of major hubs like Addis Ababa and Nairobi means travellers from countries that rely on transit at these hubs are also unable to travel,” said Sean Mendis, an aviation consultant. “There has been a huge drop in traffic between Africa and the UAE due to this.”

Amid a spike in Omicron cases, Dubai’s Emirates airline recently announced that flights from these countries would be suspended until further notice - Angola, Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Some African expats who flew back home for the Christmas weekend are now stuck and unable to return after flights were banned due to Omicron cases. Responding to a customer query on Twitter, Emirates said the flights were dependent on government mandate and country restrictions. “If a flight is cancelled, we can offer full refund.”

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Airlines suffer another hit

Airlines themselves are among the worst casualties of the new variant, which has resulted in travel restrictions worldwide. The rapid surge in cases and fears of a ‘fifth wave’ in some countries have already dented travel demand.

“UAE carriers will definitely be affected because the restrictions include transit passengers who wouldn't be entering the UAE at all,” said Mendis. “This means a traveller from say Tanzania to India who would just transit via Dubai or Abu Dhabi will instead travel via Addis Ababa or Doha instead.

“For African carriers that are affected, this only affects one spoke of their route network.”

Reputation at stake

Mendis noted that blanket travel restrictions might be required if a country’s COVID-19 testing does not meet certain standards. “Some African countries have developed a deserved reputation for generating inaccurate test certificates for travel, resulting in a disproportionately higher number of positive cases intercepted on arrival and potentially infecting fellow travellers,” said Mendis.

Another setback

For Africa’s tourism and aviation entities, this is another setback. Revenue reported by airlines from the region fell by $8 billion in 2020 and are expected to lose another $8.5 billion in 2021.

Soon after the new variant was discovered by South African scientists in November, several African countries were hit by travel restrictions and it did not go down well with the regional aviation body.

“The commendable work done by South African scientists in unearthing and transparently announcing to the world the discovery of the Omicron strain of SARS CoV-2 instead of attracting applause was met with harsh and uncoordinated travel restrictions,” said African Airlines Association in a statement last month.

Abdérahmane Berthé, AFRAA’s Secretary-General, urged the global community to find a common solution. “The Omicron variant is now detected in several regions of the world, yet the travel bans seem to be targeted at Africa. We will be better off confronting the virus if we work together for solutions and avoid discrimination.”