Coronavirus in MENA

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Many airlines, such as Saudi Airlines, Egyptair and Air Maroc, suspended flights to and from China.

Sunday 09/02/2020

Tourists wearing surgical are pictured on a beach next to Burj Al Arab on January 29. (AFP)

With more than 700 dead and more than 34,000 confirmed cases, it is only normal that the coronavirus is on everybody’s mind, including populations of the Middle East and North Africa.

The oil market is likely to be directly affected. With China being the second largest oil consumer in the world, oil prices have dropped since the outbreak and oil producers have contemplated production cuts. BP’s chief financial officer said the coronavirus outbreak could reduce oil consumption by 300,000-500,000 barrels per day (bpd), about 0.5% of global demand.

Other estimates are higher. S&P Global Platts Analytics said the epidemic could cut oil demand at least 900,000 bpd in February and 650,000 bpd in March. If air travel is further affected by the cancellation of flights, demand could fall 2.6 million bpd.

Many airlines, such as Saudi Airlines, Egyptair and Air Maroc, suspended flights to and from China. Others, including Emirates and Air Algerie, chose not to or to do so selectively. Nationals are being repatriated.

For many MENA countries, the Chinese tourism market, which has a lot of potential, is being deeply disrupted. The H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 and the 2003 SARS outbreak cost the global tourism industry, respectively, $55 billion and $50 billion.

Reactions in the Arab world have shown huge room for better coordinated logistics (in matters of repatriation of nationals, for instance) and an uneven level of preparedness in preventing and dealing with cases of infection.

Accurate and efficient public communication will be needed to dispel erroneous notions about the outbreak and limit its damage. World Travel & Tourism Council President and CEO Gloria Guevara said: “Containing the spread of unnecessary panic is as important as stopping the virus itself.”

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