Passenger transport sector hit hard by virus outbreak

Financial Tribune – Preliminary estimates show airlines will suffer losses worth 20 trillion rials ($129.87 million) till April 3—the end of the upcoming Norouz holidays

Given the fact that the two-week Norouz (Iranian New Year) holidays are the main travel season in Iran, airline, railroad and bus companies will be among the hardest hit by the lack of demand from customers as well as the implementation of work stoppages and travel restrictions.

Speaking to Fars News Agency, Secretary of the Association of Iranian Airlines Maqsoud As’adi-Samani said preliminary estimates show airlines will suffer losses worth 20 trillion rials ($129.87 million) till April 3—the end of the upcoming Norouz holidays.

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization Spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh told IRNA that domestic flights have witnessed a 70% decline due to the spread of the virus.

Global airlines stand to lose $113 billion in sales, if the coronavirus continues to spread, according to the International Air Transport Association.

In the early days of the outbreak, regional countries, including Iraq, Turkey, the UAE, Kuwait and Azerbaijan, announced they would suspend flights to Iran and not allow entry to Iranian airlines.

Road transportation has been the most widely used mode for Norouz holidaymakers, thanks to its relatively cheap costs and high accessibility in many areas of the country.

Every year, prior to Norouz holidays, Iran Road Maintenance and Transportation Organization makes a detailed plan for those who choose to travel by bus. This year, however, there’s no need for such planning.

Dariush Baqer-Javan, an official with the organization, announced on Monday there won’t be any presales of bus tickets for the new year’s holidays.

“Travelers to provinces with a high number of COVID-19 cases will be returned. We kindly ask people to avoid traveling just as the Headquarters to Fight Coronavirus has prescribed. Notably, buses are plying inter-city roads as we speak, there’s no written directive on grounding buses, but passengers can’t enter cities that are under quarantine,” he said.

Local officials in virtually all Iranian provinces have said they won’t house travelers in lodging properties or offer any other services during the upcoming Iranian New Year holidays, known as Norouz, as part of their battle to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Northern Iranian provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran, which are highly popular with tourists, have also imposed restrictions and bans on passenger vehicles.

Medical experts say transport hubs are widely regarded as infection hotspots, with virus transmission rates up to six times higher for those using public transport systems. On top of that, intercity travel is said to be the biggest incubator of the coronavirus pandemic. As such, measures such as total travel restrictions have been recommended.

Planes, trains and buses (and the stations and airports people travel through) are in many respects the perfect environment for a droplet-spread disease such as COVID-19 to thrive. Therefore, nowhere is more critical in terms of delaying the spread of the coronavirus than the transport network.

Rail companies are facing challenges post-coronavirus attack. Between 7,000-8,000 train tickets are being cancelled on a daily basis, as the coronavirus continues to spread in Iran, the head of Raja Rail Transportation Company said.

“More than 25,000 tickets have been cancelled since the outbreak of the virus,” Mohammad Rajabi was also quoted as saying by Mehr News Agency.

No cancellation fees are charged for tickets and the fares are refunded completely, he added.