• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

Crisis looms as FG bans cargo flights amid shortage of masks, ventilators  

cargo flights

There may be crisis waiting to happen if the Federal Government does not relax its ban on cargo flights to Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, and Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.

The ban is coming into force at a point when Africa’s most populous country is facing shortages of face masks, surgical masks and ventilators amid increasing number of Nigerians with the deadly coronavirus.
Surgical masks, face masks and ventilators are imported from China, Cambodia and other parts of the world, and there is yet no local manufacturer of these critical life-saving medical items.

Prices of these items, including hand santisers, are already rising as demand outstrips supply.

As of 6:00pm on Sunday, the number of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria had risen to 30, and there are feelers the number might increase in the coming weeks.

Sam Adurogboye, spokesperson of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), confirmed to BusinessDay that cargo flights would be banned from coming into the country.

“NCAA will, on Monday [today], ban anything that flies. However, on a case-by-case basis there will be exception for emergency and essentials flights,” Adurogboye said.

The closure of international flight operations at the Lagos and Abuja airports is in addition to the three other international airports in Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt shut for flight operations on Saturday.
“It is a crisis moment. There is nobody manufacturing these masks and ventilators. All of them are imported,” Fidelis Ayabae, chairman, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Group of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (PMG-MAN), said.

Ikechi Uko, a travel expert and consultant, told BusinessDay that since the coronavirus crisis started in other countries, no single country has banned cargo flights because medical supplies would be needed to help manage the situation.

“If we ban cargo flights, how are we going to get medical supplies and replacements? Nigeria doesn’t produce these things. So we need to be careful when making critical decisions as this,” Uko said.

Olumide Ohunayo, an aviation analyst, told BusinessDay that restriction of importation of cargoes would affect the economy negatively. For instance, he said, when cargo flights are restricted, industries and other services supporting the ground handlers at the airport, the agents, transporters and customs would also be affected.

“We have companies that have stopped operating and producing, and many are asking their staff to go and work from home,” Ohunayo said.

“So, everyone is offering skeletal services, but I believe that if there are essential things that are needed as a nation, such flights will be allowed to land but all other non-essential cargo flights may be restricted for now,” he said.

Ohunayo said the country may eventually get to a total lockdown.

“We shouldn’t look at the commercial side of things now but safety. Government should rather look for palliative measures to help key sectors like aviation so that airlines can survive after the situation,” he said.
Seyi Adewale, chief executive officer, Mainstream Cargo Limited, an indigenous freight forwarding company, said he believed essential cargoes would still be allowed to operate.

He noted that the only challenge, even with essential cargoes being allowed, was that there might be delays in return time caused by poor connectivity arising from restrictions on flights from other countries as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19.

Ayabae of PMG-MAN, however, said drug makers were already seeking ways of responding to the crisis.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had last week unveiled N50 billion and another N1.1 trillion to support firms, including drug makers, to stay afloat or come up with products relating to COVID-19.

“CBN has seized the opportunity to make some money available for manufacturers to invest. We have the capacity to produce all these items, but we are not manufacturing them because it is uninteresting and unprofitable to do so. The economy is open to all kinds of imported products which will make local products expensive,” Ayabae said.

Okey Akpa, CEO of SKG Pharma, said this was the time for the country to take manufacturing more seriously to make Nigeria achieve medical sufficiency. Akpa had earlier said that medicine was so critical for a nation to be left for exporters, stressing the need to check unbridled import of drugs to save the country in cases of emergency.

 

 

ODINAKA ANUDU & IFEOMA OKEKE