SINGAPORE. Today’s images, taken this morning by King Power Group CEO and APTRA President Sunil Tuli at Changi Airport in Singapore, underline the calamity of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on aviation, tourism and travel retail.

The huge Lancôme and Shiseido digital advertising displays are as impressive as ever but alas there are precious few eyes to look up at the messages they bear. The stores remain bright, elegant and full of the world’s great brands. But there are few customers buying their wares.

As for the flight – SQ882 to Hong Kong – Sunil reports that there were just nine passengers onboard. These are indeed terrible times and to see a great airport such as Changi brought to this is as sad as it is shocking.

Changi Airport Group notes that just 111,000 passengers used the gateway in November, down -98.1% year-on-year.

Singapore media The Straits Times ran an article yesterday headed ‘Air travel recovery stalls as governments shun balanced approach to tackling Covid-19 risks’, noting “global air travel has stalled amid border clampdowns by governments more concerned about the spread of COVID-19 than the health of their economies”.

In the same article, International Air Transport Association (IATA) Chief Executive Officer and Director General Alexandre de Juniac lamented that the outlook for the first quarter looks “dismal”, with bookings for February and March down by more than 80% year-on-year.

Mr de Juniac blasted governments for not taking a balanced approach: “They appear to be aiming for a zero-Covid world. This is an impossible task that comes with severe consequences – the full extent of which it would be impossible to calculate.”

And there lies the dilemma, the awful choice, the balancing (or imbalancing in Mr de Juniac’s view) of health v economy. Which side to come down on? Or instead to find a middle ground based on a rigorous testing regime, linked increasingly to vaccine roll-out?

Singapore, like many other nations, has made its choice, placing ultra-tight restrictions on entry. In health terms, at least, the strategy appears to be working. There were just four new cases in the community in the last seven days, and 12 cases the week before. But the economic toll, as affirmed by Sunil’s photographs, is immense.