Lift Airlines (GE, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) has temporarily cancelled all its flights from July 5 to 31, 2021, citing a drastic drop in demand after South Africa returned to a stricter lockdown this week as a third COVID wave saw leisure travel banned from Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

The brand, operated by Global Aviation Operations (GE, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo), said bookings would remain open from August 1 on its only route between Johannesburg O.R. Tambo and Cape Town, normally South Africa’s most lucrative skyway.

The 14-day lockdown from June 28 to July 11 is aimed at curbing an alarming rise in the Delta variant of the virus, with Gauteng the worst hit, accounting for nearly two-thirds of an average of 7,500 daily infections over the past week.

A ban has been imposed on domestic leisure travel to and from Gauteng, which comprises South Africa’s biggest city Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria, amongst others. The number of business travellers has also dwindled as people choose to work remotely.

“People are choosing to stay at home for now. Understandably so. Our crew are also better off staying put until this wave recedes and the vaccination rollout reaches critical mass. We’re very lucky that Lift’s agile, demand-driven business model allows us to scale up and down as things change. And change, they certainly do!” commented chief executive, Jonathan Ayache.

He said more than 1,000 passengers had already cancelled or changed their flights in the last two days since the lockdown announcement. “Lift flights will continue up to and including Sunday, July 4, 2021. Flights from July 5-31 will be cancelled and all affected LIFT travellers will be provided with an alternative flight.”

Ayache said the airline had operated more than 1,150 flights with 150,000 passengers in its first seven months of operation with 97% on-time performance.

Lift's long-term future remains uncertain as Global Aviation takes on the restructuring of South African Airways (SA, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) and its budget subsidiary Mango Airlines (JE, Johannesburg O.R. Tambo) after having joined the Takatso Consortium that has been named as the government's preferred strategic equity partner for the national carrier.

South Africa's five international airports - Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban King Shaka, Lanseria, and Nelspruit - remain open but travellers are required to present negative COVID tests on arrival.