LIMA After six months virtually isolated from the world, with no regular flights in or out, Peru resumed on Monday its air connections with other countries, a measure received with longing in a country that has been very hard hit in health and economic terms by the coronavirus pandemic.
Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra and the ministers of Transportation and the Interior, Carlos Estremadoyro and Cesar Gentille, respectively, made an in-person inspection of the airport measures being implemented to resume a regular flight schedule, a political move designed to reaffirm the social and economic importance that this reopening means for the country.
The first regular flight abroad out of the Peruvian capital since the pandemic hit Peru in March, forcing the closure of the air links, was a Sky flight to Santiago, Chile, one of the 11 destinations authorized for the time being by authorities to welcome passengers from Peru.
Clearly, this is something that we were longing for for a long time. Fortunately, the pandemic conditions moved forward and clearly its now time for us to open the borders to resume international operations, Sky general manager Raul Vargas told EFE at the Jorge Chavez Airport in Lima.
He, like passengers and Peruvian authorities, expressed cautious optimism given the possibility of relaunching the air transport industry, which has lost considerable revenue due to the pandemic and the rebirth of which is crucial for significant Peruvian economic sectors, starting with tourism.
The impact (of COVID-19) has been really tough. Its the biggest crisis in the history of aviation. Just in Peru the estimate is that the impact has been some $1.7 billion. With that, I can tell you that the recovery will be slow and gradual, Vargas said.
Economic expectations are, however, very moderate and it is not expected that the passenger flow will return to pre-pandemic levels for a long time.
The best scenario is that the recovery of passengers on national flights will get to 40 or 45 percent of what it was before the pandemic, and thus the industry will remain in a complicated situation. Our hope is that the solidarity of Peruvians in taking care of themselves will continue so that it can be safe to travel, Vargas said.
Theres a great need to fly because of family, work and were hoping for the reactivation of tourism, he added.
The main thing that authorities are demanding is that, to be allowed to travel, a prospective passenger must present a negative COVID-19 test performed not more than 72 hours prior to the flight, and this goes for entry to or exit from the country.
Without that negative test, a person will not be allowed on board an airplane, and they will also need to present a sworn declaration confirming that they have been isolated between the time the test was performed and the moment they will travel.
In addition, sanitary precautions are being taken and hygiene items are being provided at the airport, including hand sanitizer and the requirement for people to socially distance.
The cabins have a big control element, that is filters that keep the cabin like a hospital surgical theater. Flying is the safest way to travel, Vargas went on to say.
Aritza Henriquez, one of the passengers onboard the first flight, did not seem to be very concerned about the trip, as long as people follow to the letter the protocols and are careful.
Traveling is being able to reunite with our families, to be able to fly again to our jobs, because we left jobs in other countries, and keeping going. We hope that things keep working like theyre working now, she told EFE.
At the airport, Vizcarra said that Peru is opening its borders to foster phase 4 of the economic opening, whereby the country is seeking to return to normalcy, but he added that the country is also preparing for another outbreak if that is what results from taking this step.
The president said that in contrast to March, now Peru, which for weeks has been seeing a sustained drop in the number of infections, deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19, has more ability to respond to a renewed emergency.
This reopening of the air links is being contemplated, for now, only with countries close to Peru including Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, all of which can be reached by air in less than four hours and with which Peruvian authorities negotiated the opening in coordination with the private sector.
The idea is to continue adding regular destinations as long as infection levels continues to decline, at present ruling out more distant destinations such as Europe and the United States, where the coronavirus is still spreading.
Nevertheless, since Peru closed its borders to begin its quarantine in mid-March, there have been numerous flights to repatriate dozens of travelers stranded by the emergency and other charter flights to assorted destinations, including North America and Europe.
In Peru, the country with the worlds highest coronavirus mortality rate and in the No. 6 spot in terms of confirmed cases, the number of currently active cases has fallen below 90,000, the lowest its been since May and that figure has been declining for six consecutive weeks.
The currently active cases stand at a little over half the number there were on Aug. 23, when Peru reached its peak in terms of simultaneously sick people at more than 167,000.
The situation now is also resulting in fewer hospitalizations, with some 7,000 hospital beds currently occupied by COVID-19 patients, far below the more than 14,000 that basically collapsed Perus fragile and fragmented healthcare system in mid-August.