Is resuming air travel worth the risk? asks WHO

Kenya plans to resume domestic air travel next week.

In Summary
  • Air travel is vital to economies.
  • So far Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Zambia have resumed commercial flights. 
Kenya Airways plane.
Kenya Airways plane.
Image: FILE

The World Health Organization has asked countries to assess whether reopening airports and international travel is worth the risk. 

WHO said although air travel is vital to economies, there is need to determine whether the health system can cope with a spike in imported Covid-19 cases; and whether the surveillance and contact tracing system can reliably detect and monitor cases.

Kenya plans to resume domestic air travel next week. 


So far Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania and Zambia have resumed commercial flights.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States is expected to open its airspace on July 21.

“Air travel is vital to the economic health of countries,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a virtual press briefing.

“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.”

While open borders are vital for the free flow of goods and people, initial analysis by WHO found that lockdowns along with public health measures reduced the spread of Covid-19.

To resume international air travel, WHO recommends that countries assess the epidemiological situation to determine whether maintaining restrictions outweigh the economic costs of reopening borders if, for instance, there is widespread transmission of the virus.

It is important that countries have systems in place at points of entry, including airports, it says.


“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,” Dr Moeti said.

“It will also ensure that experts, who can support the response, can finally get on the ground and work.”

The impact of Covid-19 on airlines is likely to be severe. It is projected that African airlines could lose $6 billion (Sh639.4 billion) in passenger revenue compared to 2019.

Job losses in the aviation and related industries could grow to 3.1 million, half of the region’s 6.2 million aviation-related employment, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Together with the World Economic Forum, WHO held a virtual press conference with Dr Moeti, Dr Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner for Infrastructure and Energy at the African Union Commission, and Prosper Zo'o Minto'o, Regional Director, Western and Central African Office, International Civil Aviation Organization.

Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya