News this week that Australia’s domestic air travel market has been hit hard by a resurgence of Covid-19 cases reflects a growing trend of Covid-19 challenges in Asia-Pacific, with no easy answers.
Domestic air travel was meant to be the region’s bright spot, in stark contrast to a virtual grounding of international connectivity. But Australia’s domestic woes – which have also prompted New Zealand to suspend the trans-Tasman travel bubble – follow similarly downbeat developments in the Thai and Vietnamese markets in recent days.
Even in China, the relatively strong performance of domestic markets is not necessarily following a consistent path, with June traffic numbers dropping in many cases.
It remains to be seen whether the spread of the more-transmissible Delta variant of Covid-19 can be controlled by the measures used so effectively in those countries at previous stages of the pandemic.
And if domestic markets are depressed, the return of international travel looks even further away, amid relatively low vaccination rates.
An exception to those low inoculation rates, Singapore has shifted policy towards accepting Covid-19 as an endemic disease, rather than trying to eliminate cases entirely, but few governments are yet to show an appetite for such a change.
The Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble may be a victim of that dichotomy in policy.
Asia-Pacific’s problems with opening up stand out all the more because of positive progress being made in world’s other huge airline markets: Europe and North America.
Among developments in the past few days, Ireland opened up to international travel on 19 July, while the long-awaited resumption of non-essential Canada-USA air connectivity is imminent.
In a perverse turn of events, the far-worse health outcomes in those regions, compared with Asia-Pacific, are giving their airlines a head start during the recovery of international travel, amid faster vaccination programmes and more comfort with a certain level of Covid-19 transmission.
As AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes said in mid-July of the challenges faced in Australia: “It’s very easy to lock down. It’s very hard to un-lock down.”
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