bne IntelliNews – Aeroflot restarts flights to tourist destinations as coronavirus infections explode in Russia
Russia officially restarted flights to major cities around the world on June 28, just as coronavirus (COVID-19) infections explode to levels not seen since January.
Desperate to restart aviation business for vacation-hungry Russians, the national carrier Aeroflot began resuming flights to the United States, Italy, Belgium, Bulgaria, Jordan, Ireland, Cyprus and North Macedonia, among other destinations, on a reciprocal basis on June 28.
The move seems untimely, as daily new infections have more than doubled in recent weeks to over 20,000 a day, making Russia number four on the list with the most new infections in one day last week . 600 people died, also a record. A total of 130,000 people were hospitalized in Russia with COVID-19 on June 23, according to Health Minister Mikhail Murashko.
Authorities appear to be on the verge of panic, as Moscow’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced compulsory vaccination for 60% of all service workers and heavy fines for non-compliant companies. Authorities have launched a public relations campaign to persuade reluctant Russians to get the shot. Sobyanin also closed access to bars and restaurants without a valid vaccination certificate or proof of antibodies. However, authorities so far appear to be trying to avoid another full lockdown.
State television has tirelessly broadcast reports from already overflowing hospitals in some areas, married to game shows where residents are rewarded for getting the snaps.
The government says the vaccination rate has increased since the arrival of the Delta variant in Russia and Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova announced on June 23 that vaccination rates have increased 1.7 times from previous weeks – but there are no publicly available figures. The number of jabs in Russia last week increased by 25%, according to Our World in Data, as quoted by The Bell.
At the same time, vaccinations have taken center stage in public discourse. The number of social media posts about vaccines quintupled last week, and vaccines were three times more popular on social media than the Putin-Biden summit on June 16 (which took place the same day that Moscow announced its compulsory vaccination program).
Distrust of authorities means only 13% of Russia’s population is vaccinated, but the campaign appears to be having an effect with long lines outside free dispensaries in malls and elsewhere as Russians finally respond to warnings from the state. Daily immunization rates suddenly jumped as people overcame fears to avoid sanctions. A booming trade in fake vaccination certificates has also emerged with several high-profile arrests already made.
The holiday plans in question
Aeroflot has been one of the biggest victims of the pandemic, but as infection rates decline in other countries, it has restarted several flights this week. At the same time, the number of charter flights from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO) doubled in the first quarter.
Aeroflot has agreed to open flights from Moscow to Washington and New York twice a week (meaning the Russian carrier and the foreign carrier will be able to operate two flights each), Tass reports.
There will also be flights from Moscow to Brussels (four times a week), from Moscow to Dublin (two flights), from Moscow to Rome and Milan (two flights), from Moscow to Venice and Naples (four flights), from Moscow to Larnaca (four flights) and from Moscow to Paphos (three flights).
The headquarters also approved the resumption of flights between Russia and Bulgaria: Sofia, Varna, Bourgas are open to flights both from Moscow and from the regions (from Moscow – four flights per week, from the regions – one).
Aeroflot has also agreed to increase flights to Vienna, Azerbaijan, Yerevan, Qatar, Belgrade, Helsinki, Zurich. Split, Dubrovnik, Pula, Geneva are also open to flights. Above all, the quota of flights to Greece has been extended. In addition to increasing the frequency of flights from Moscow to Athens, the headquarters opened flights from Moscow and regions to Thessaloniki, Heraklion, Corfu and Rhodes.
Russia must resume flights to Turkey, which is already accepting Russian tourists.
But soaring infection rates in Russia are already prompting other countries to impose new restrictions on Russians that could hamper vacation plans.
The rapid rate hike prompted France to add Russia on June 23 to its list of coronavirus hotspots, and Germany followed suit two days later. Now, the few Russians able to travel to these countries face two weeks of quarantine upon arrival.
The Aeroflot group published neutral consolidated operating results for May on June 24. The number of passengers carried increased 12.8-fold year-on-year to 3.592 million, although it was 25.8% below the level of May 2019 before the pandemic.
Passenger Load Factor (PLF) increased 29.9pp YoY to 75.8%, 1.4pp lower than in May 2019.
“In May, the Aeroflot group continued to slow the pace of the decline from 2019 levels. In particular, passenger traffic and RPK in April were 34.5% and 46.0% below figures, respectively. of the same month of 2019. However, we note that there is still some way to go to reach the level of 2019, ”Sberbank CIB said in a note.
“Although in the domestic market, the company has already surpassed the pre-pandemic level (in May, the number of passengers carried and the number of RPKs exceeded the 2019 figures by 19.4% and 17.6% , respectively), international volumes are well below 2019 figures. Turkey’s recent reopening and gradual restoration of air links with other countries are expected to accelerate the recovery in Aeroflot’s international volumes, although this is expected to slow growth in domestic volumes due to a partial redistribution of traffic between segments. However, a full recovery in international traffic volumes is unlikely to occur soon. In fact, the management of the company expects a complete recovery of the international airline market only in 2024 ”, added Sberbank CIB.