The New York Times

The New York Times 13 Apr 2020

What Happens When Coronavirus Invades a War Zone

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Libyans have been fleeing bombs and shells throughout the country's six-year civil war. But with the arrival of the coronavirus, virtually nowhere is safe to hide.


Coronavirus has the potential to devastate Africa but in comparison to Europe and the US, the number of infections hasn't rocketed - yet.

Medics across the continent say their countries are unprepared for the pandemic and measures like lockdowns will be almost impossible to enforce.

Sky News' Africa correspondent John Sparks investigates how the continent will cope when coronavirus takes hold.
We spoke to an expert about why a patient with COVID-19 would be admitted to intensive care, and what happens when they are there. …
With many meat processing plants operating at reduced capacity, it's estimated that millions of pigs will have to be euthanized to conserve space on farms — another blow to an already shaken food supply chain.
With U.S. passenger traffic down by 90%, airlines are desperate to fill seats and are offering big incentives to keep their most reliable customers loyal. But what happens to frequent flyer miles when almost no one is flying and can an airline loyalty program survive if an airline goes bankrupt?

For the cash-strapped traveler who dreams of sipping champagne in first class, a frequent flyer program is a must-have.

Airline loyalty programs offer passengers free flights, seat upgrades and access to elite business class lounges.  

They are also a massive revenue generator for U.S. airlines.

"It's big money for these airlines, bigger even for a lot of airlines than all those baggage fees," said Seth Kaplan, aviation analyst and principal with Kaplan Research. 

But this year, U.S. airline passenger travel tanked when the coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses and states enacted stay-at-home orders. Passenger traffic is down by 90% and more than half of U.S. passenger planes are parked.

"The challenge in the business right now is demand," said Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian. "With all the stay-at-home orders and the challenges with respect to travel, it's well documented we're operating right now at less than 5% of a normal passenger load." 

Frequent flyer programs are a lifeline for the nation's air carriers. 

Airlines make money by selling billions of dollars worth of miles to hotels, car rental agencies and especially to their credit card partners.

Delta has a co-branded credit card with American Express. United Airlines has a 30-year credit card relationship with Chase Card Services. And American Airlines is partnered with Citi and Barclaycard. 

American also makes money off some rewards cards that aren't branded, such as the popular Chase Sapphire Reserve card. Here's how that works: The bank purchases miles from the airline and then issues those miles to the cardholder as a reward for spending.

While the terms of such agreements are generally not made public, Delta said it took in $4.1 billion from American Express in 2019, and the airline expects to increase that to $7 billion by 2023. 

In a February filing, United said it had agreed to a contract extension with Chase to 2029 that would increase cash flow in 2020 by $400 million. 

With U.S. passenger traffic down, airlines are offering big incentives to keep their most reliable customers loyal.

In April, Delta announced its SkyMiles Medallion members will be able to keep their current status through the end of 2021 and qualifying miles from 2020 would be rolled over to 2021. Medallion status is reserved for Delta SkyMiles' most elite flyers and is earned through a combination of flying and spending.  

The carrier is also expanding other benefits, including the extension of travel vouchers and flight credits to SkyMiles members and Delta cardholders. The SkyMiles program has more than 92 million members worldwide.

United offered similar incentives for members of its MileagePlus program. The program's top flyers who have attained Premier status will have their benefits extended through Jan. 31, 2022.  

American AAdvantage members who have achieved the program's Elite status level will see reductions in status qualifications for 2020 and extended airport lounge membership for an additional six months. 

But with would-be passengers sheltering in place and fearful airplanes could be a breeding ground for Covid-19 infections, many are choosing to postpone travel. The situation begs the obvious question — do airline miles expire and will all these perks still be around when people choose to get back on planes?

United, JetBlue and Delta said the miles on their frequent flyer programs never expire. American said its miles expire after 18 months from the date of your most recent activity.  

"Your frequent flyer miles are safe during the pandemic,"  said Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group. "Nothing's going to happen to them."

That is, of course, if an air carrier stays in business. Watch this video to find out more about what happens to frequent flyer miles if an airline files for bankruptcy.

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"Everyone is thinking about their lives.
They don't know what to do anymore
because whenever there's a shelling,
you can't leave your house.
So you just have to sit and wait for your fate."
After years of civil war, many Libyans
have come to expect the bombings,
the airstrikes, the clashes.
But now Libya faces the coronavirus pandemic.
Now life in this conflict zone that
seemed like it couldn't get any worse
suddenly has in just a matter of weeks.
"The war should stop in order to have a better chance
of dealing with the virus.
It doesn't mean that we will easily beat it."
But the war hasn't stopped.
Years of conflict have not only
led to conditions that make it easier for the virus
to spread but forces pushing to seize the capital city
now seem to be exploiting the pandemic to inflict
maximum terror on civilians by shelling areas where people
are clearly trapped at home under curfew
and by attacking Libya's already overwhelmed
hospitals.
There are 25 confirmed cases of the coronavirus
in Libya as of April 12, but testing is extremely limited,
and the number is likely to grow.
In the capital of Tripoli, residents face a dire choice.
Do they stay in their homes and risk getting hit
by shells or do they flee and risk contracting the virus?
"Everyone's worried.
They don't know what's going to happen with their lives.
Is it going to end because of the coronavirus?
Is it going to end because of the continuous shelling?
People are just lost."
Libya's civil war began six years ago.
And the fighting is between two main groups,
the UN-recognized government of National Accord,
based in the capital of Tripoli
and the Libyan National Army led
by a military strongman who's based
in Benghazi to the east.
For the past year, the LNA has been
attacking Tripoli on its push to control the country.
The front line has moved into the suburbs,
sending residents fleeing deeper into the city,
crowding closer together.
We spoke to one resident who's had to move twice,
from this area further and further into the dense city.
She asked that we only use her voice.
These conditions will likely make it much easier
for the virus to spread.
When the pandemic began, both sides of the conflict
imposed curfews.
They readied hospitals and public areas.
They put on masks and continued fighting.
Eventually they agreed to pause
the fighting because of the virus,
but the agreement didn't last.
The LNA had pledged on Facebook
to halt its advance on Tripoli--
--but we found that its forces resumed attacks on the city
within minutes.
And just one day after the first confirmed coronavirus
case was announced, the LNA began its worst shelling
on residential areas that anyone could remember,
despite the fact that people were clearly
stuck in their homes under curfew and self-quarantine.
"I've never felt so close to death
as I am feeling right now, right here in Tripoli.
You're living in confusion, and you don't know--
you're just very lost."
It's in moments like this, under mandatory curfew
and under a rain of shells, that many
feel there's no way out.
It's not just people at home being hit.
It's doctors at work too.
The LNA has rarely attacked major civilian hospitals
over the past year, but since the pandemic,
one hospital complex has been struck three times
in less than a week.
The hospital was well known for treating
coronavirus patients.
It was evacuated and forced to briefly close.
The international community condemned the hospital
attacks but to little effect.
The war continues to rage.
One analysis found that violence
in Tripoli over the past year has
spiked during the pandemic.
"And the fighters, I mean, you cannot really quarantine
them.
They are moving from a city to another.
Despite the situation that we have,
they are going to take their share of the hospitals' beds,
and that will make dealing with coronavirus patients
even harder."
Some international aid has reached Libya,
but the world at large is mostly focused elsewhere
on fighting the pandemic and their own countries.
And so many Libyans are left to fend for themselves
as they wait to see just how far the war and the virus
will spread.

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