Egypt suspends flights over coronavirus as tourism sector suffers

Cairo, Mar 16 (efe-epa).- The Egyptian government on Monday announced it would temporarily suspend all flights to limit the spread of the coronavirus, dealing a further blow to Egypt’s tourism industry.

The suspension will come into force as of Thursday until the end of the month, Egyptian Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly told journalists after a cabinet meeting.

“The suspension of air traffic at all Egyptian airports starting at noon next Thursday, 19 March (…) and the suspension will continue until 31 March, 2020. Obviously the objective of that measure is to reduce direct contact,” he said.

Tourists who are already n Egypt will be able to continue their programs and leave the country as previously scheduled, he added.

The aviation sector will have losses of 2.25 billion Egyptian pounds ($142 million) due to the suspension, according to the premier.

The tourism sector will also suffer losses, Madbouly said, without providing more details.

The tourism sector in Egypt, however, had already started to suffer the consequences of the virus over two weeks before the Easter period, a high season before the summer in the North African country.

Almost all reservations from Europe have been canceled up to June, tour operators told Efe.

Tourists from Spain, Italy, France and Germany have suspended almost 100 percent of the reservations for the Egypt-Jordan trip offered by Promo Travel, the tour operator’s president, Medhat Hammam, told Efe.

Only between 10 and 15 percent of the reservations by Latin American tourists can arrive in Cairo with a stop in Morocco, Turkey or United Arab Emirates, a similar percentage of the reservations still stands from the United Kingdom, Hammam added.

Holy Week is one of the high seasons in Egypt’s tourism sector – alongside Christmas – and it represents between 10 and 15 percent of the annual turnover for the sector, according to Hammam.

Mohamed al-Hassamein, CEO of Galaxia tour operator confirmed to Efe that the Easter season was over, as 75 percent of the reservations have been canceled.

It is too early to estimate the exact impact of the virus on the sector, he added.

The cancelation of reservations led to the cancelation of two charter flights per week from Egypt to Spain until July, al-Hassanein added.

One of the companies running Nile cruises has also registered a fall in occupancy rate to 10 percent compared to 90 percent in February, according to the company which talked on condition of anonymity.

The tourism sector has recovered over the past couple of years after the blow it suffered following the 2015 attack on a Russian plane in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2015 that killed 200 people on board.

In 2018, the number of tourists who visited Egypt once again surpassed 11 million and the authorities had very optimistic forecasts for 2019 and 2020.

In February 2020, some 900,000 people visited Egypt, 4 percent more than in February of the previous year, according to the latest data provided by the Ministry of Tourism.

Egypt has reported 110 coronavirus and two deaths of confirmed cases, according to the most recent figures by the World Health Organization. EFE-EPA


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