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Coronavirus: Safety 'foremost concern' in limiting air travel

By Bahaa Al Deen Al Nawas - Feb 28,2020 - Last updated at Feb 28,2020

AMMAN — Measures banning entry to the Kingdom from certain countries where the new coronavirus, COVID-19, has spread aim to protect passengers, according to the Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission (CARC).

“CARC is first and foremost concerned with the safety and security of passengers,” Chief Commissioner Captain Haitham Misto told The Jordan Times on Thursday over the phone, noting that this includes the safety of travel in airplanes and transit through airports.

Based on instructions from the Interior Ministry, he noted, the arrival of foreign passengers who have travelled through countries with “a lot of documented cases”, such as China, South Korea, Iran and Italy, are prevented from entering the Kingdom, based on a risk-assessment study.

“This applies to direct flights and transit flights, but excludes Jordanians, who upon arrival are sent to a 14-day quarantine based on the regulations of the Health Ministry,” Misto said.

“Aviation is one of the most significant economy enablers, but it is the quickest means to spread diseases because of the speed of travel between one country and another, which usually takes hours, not days,” the chief commissioner said.

Therefore, as it is impossible to absolutely prevent risk by 100 per cent, a country takes precautions that decrease the probability of infection, which include banning passengers from risky areas, he explained.

“We don’t have direct flights from Korea, China or Iran, but travellers could come through transit, and so we had to take measures. The ban was not on nationalities, it is only country-based,” Misto noted.

The list of countries could change every day based on the updates on the cases, the chief commissioner said, noting that direct flights from Rome through Royal Jordanian have been suspended, in addition to five flights through Ryanair.

In regards to Bahrain, Misto said that there are normally two daily flights, which Gulf Air reduced to one trip in the current period “because of a decrease in demand, not because of the virus”.

He added that the airline "has taken care of" Jordanians who booked flights that were cancelled, sending them through transit flights to their destination and managing their reservations.

“Worldwide, there are expectations that there will be a huge economic impact on the aviation sector in light of the virus’ wide spread, because people naturally refrain from flying in these conditions. The longer the virus lasts, the more the sector will suffer,” Misto said.

The CARC also urged all Jordanians around the world to contact it through calling or sending WhatsApp messages to 00962799522502 or to the email [email protected]

Meanwhile, in response to a temporary ban of pilgrims performing umrah (the lesser Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca) by Saudi authorities on Thursday, the Awqaf Ministry said in a statement that it "understands the decision", as it is part of efforts to prevent the spread of the virus.

In light of the decision, Hajj and umrah agents in Amman told The Jordan Times that all flights after 1am on Thursday were suspended, as well as all buses carrying pilgrims. Pilgrims travelling to Saudi Arabia from Queen Alia International Airport were also prevented from boarding, the travel agents said.

Commenting on the decision, Awqaf Ministry Spokesperson Husam Hiyari said in the statement that the ministry is "still waiting for further announcements from the Saudi authorities" regarding Jordanian umrah pilgrims impacted by the decision

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