Tuesday, March 10, 2020

After Qatar ban, airlines may hit air pocket in virus season

Kolkata: Qatar’s decision to ban travel from India a day after Kuwait announced a moratorium on Indian citizens in a bid to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus in the country has sparked uncertainty in the minds of those booked to travel in summer and is set to trigger a fresh spate of flight cancellations.

Already reeling under the impact of slowdown triggered by the worldwide spread of novel coronavirus, the travel trade industry shuddered over the prospect of another crippling blow to the sector. While the ban will immediately affect movement of labour traffic from Malda, Murshidabad and other Bengal districts to the Gulf, sources said it will also have an impact on flyers travelling to Europe or the Americas.
“Though Indians can still transit Doha, the restrictions that have been imposed will make any traveller wary of travelling through the country. This is extremely unfortunate because Doha has in the past few years emerged as a popular stop-over point for travellers from Kolkata heading to Europe and the US. Qatar Airways offers attractive packages, either directly or through partner and subsidiary Discover Qatar. The airline also offer complementary hotel stay and city tours for flyers with long layovers. However, with the ban now in force, those taking onward connections will not be allowed to leave Hamad International Airport,” an industry official said.

Entry into Qatar for passengers travelling from India, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria and Thailand was suspended on Monday as a preventive measure against the spread of Covid-19. The ban is on all individuals — visitors as well as those working or residing there.

Kuwait had last week announced a similar restriction on Indians though India has not yet had a single Covid-19 related death. The number of affected Indians is 56, far less than what many countries have reported. Qatar has till now confirmed 15 cases.

"Qatar Airways is working closely with global and national authorities to implement the latest advice and guidance on Covid-19 and operate our services accordingly. Due to the rise of nCoV cases around the world, we are placing a temporary hold on stopover services in Doha for the purpose of connection, booked through our partner and subsidiary, Discover Qatar, or booked directly through qatarairways.com. Passengers with onward connections will not be permitted to leave Hamad International Airport (HIA). All current stopover bookings will therefore be cancelled. A full refund will be offered," an airline spokesperson said.

Aviation industry sources said the ban would hit Qatar Airways that operates over 100 flights a week to and from 13 Indian cities. Though the airline has not announced any immediate plans to rationalise flights to India, sources said the frequencies could be curtailed if traffic loads drop dramatically in the days ahead.
10/03/20 Times of India
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