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Overwhelming distress

This week, several countries around the world, and principally in Europe tightened restrictions amid fears that the virus incidence curve which appeared to have flattened was rising again.

Statesman News Service | New Delhi |

India and Indian states are not alone in their seesawing responses to the coronavirus epidemic.

This week, several countries around the world, and principally in Europe tightened restrictions amid fears that the virus incidence curve which appeared to have flattened was rising again.

Overall, Europe is the region hardest hit by the virus with over 200,000 fatalities but as the situation appeared to ease in past weeks, economies started to open up. But a renewed surge in cases has put the brakes on economic recovery.

The measures announced by different countries this week were disparate and reflected the most immediate concerns of public health officials. Germany announced mandatory tests for travellers from risk zones that include most non-EU countries and parts of Belgium and Spain.

Austria announced a travel warning for Spain. Finland introduced controls on travellers from some EU countries including Belgium and the Netherlands.

Norway announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for travellers from France, Switzerland, Monaco and the Czech Republic. Poland announced the compulsory use of face masks in critically affected areas and Scotland announced restrictions in Aberdeen.

Outside Europe, the Australian city of Melbourne now has stringent measures in place, with all non-essential businesses shut and citizens under a severe lockdown. As governments strive to strike a balance between the needs of economies and public safety, the new restrictions appear to suggest they have weighed in once again in favour of the latter.

Even as these measures fell into place, the travel business that appeared to have gingerly woken up from enforced slumber has been pushed back into distress. In the first wave of the virus, Virgin Australia airline had collapsed and filed for bankruptcy.

In June, it was estimated that cumulative losses of the airline industry would top $80 billion.

As if to confirm the trend, German airline Lufthansa announced this week it had suffered a loss of 1.5 billion euros in the second quarter of 2020 and was laying off jobs, after passenger load shrunk by 96 per cent in comparison to last year.

The International Air Transport Association had estimated that airlines in the Asia-Pacific region would lose nearly $30 billion, of which a little more than a third was estimated to be India’s share.

With the country poised for a 49 per cent drop in passenger loads, and with no sector-specific bailout in sight, it seems almost certain that cost-cutting measures notwithstanding, at least some Indian airlines could be forced to severely curtail or even cease operations. But it is not only airlines that are bleeding. Several thousand people employed in allied sectors, such as aircraft maintenance, in-flight catering, airport management and, further afield, hospitality and tourism, will also face the impact. The world’s distress seems overwhelming.