Monday 1 June, 2020

Airlines suspend China flights, cut services on virus fears

Photo courtesy Associated Press

Photo courtesy Associated Press

British Airways and Asian budget carriers Lion Air and Seoul Air have joined a growing list of airlines that are suspending flights to China as fears spread about the outbreak of a new virus that has killed more than 130 people.

Several other airlines including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia are meanwhile cutting back on flights to the country as demand for travel drops because of the outbreak.

(Video: Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike acknowledged concern about the coronavirus in Japan ahead of Tokyo 2020 as she spoke on Wednesday to the heads of 62 municipalities of the capital city. Koike took part in a ceremony with representatives of 62 municipalities from across Japan that donated timbers to build the Athletes' Village for Tokyo 2020.)

British Airways said Wednesday it is immediately suspending all flights to and from mainland China after the UK government warned against unnecessary travel to the country amid a virus outbreak.

The airline operates daily flights from London's Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing. It took the measure a day after Britain's Foreign Office updated its travel advice on China, warning against "all but essential travel" to the mainland, not including Hong Kong and Macao.

China has cut off access to the central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, and 16 other cities to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further. The outbreak has infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad.

Online flight notice boards for the Beijing and Shanghai airports showed numerous cancellations for both domestic and foreign airlines on Wednesday.

Air Seoul, a budget airline, became the first South Korean airline to suspend its fights to mainland Chinese destinations apart from Wuhan, stopping its flights to the cities of Zhangjiajie and Linyi.

Indonesia's Lion Air said it has cancelled more than 50 flights to China well into February. The flights are from five international airports in Manado, Surabaya, Jakarta, Batam and from  Denpasar, in Bali, to 15 airports in China.

Lion Group's spokesman Danang Mandala Prihantor said the suspension would be phased in gradually and would continue until further notice.

Hong Kong airlines are cutting the number of their flights to the mainland by about half through the end of March in response to government virus-control efforts.

Cathay Pacific Group said flights to 24 mainland destinations would be reduced to 240 weekly. The company owns Cathay Pacific Airways, cargo carrier Air Hong Kong, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Express.

Helsinki, Finland-based Finnair, which has actively promoted its position linking Asian and Western destinations, said it was cancelling three weekly flights to Beijing Daxing International Airport through late March, as well as its twice-weekly flights to Nanjing. It will continue operating flights to four other mainland Chinese destinations, including Beijing Capital Airport.

Jetstar Asia said it will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Hefei, Guiyang and Xuzhou starting Thursday through the end of March due to a drop in demand.

South Korea's second-largest carrier, Asiana Airlines, said it will temporarily suspend flights to the Chinese cities of Guilin, Changsha and Haikou starting next month.

Korean Air, South Korea's biggest airline, said it is also considering grounding some of its flights to mainland China as passenger demand drops. Korean Air had operated four flights a week to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, before suspending them on January 23.

Taiwan's Eva Air announced a partial cancellation of flights to and from mainland China for two weeks starting Febuary 2. In addition, the airline also has stopped providing towels, magazines, table cloths, and is limiting the use of blankets and pillows on its flights.

Kazakhstan, which shares a long border with far western China, announced Wednesday that it plans to suspend all flights, train and bus traffic and to halt issuing visas to Chinese nationals.

Before the Wednesday's suspension, there were 24 flights a week from Kazakhstan to China, including a daily flight to Ürümqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

Japan's JAL said it had not changed its flight plans, while German carrier Lufthansa said it was monitoring the situation "very closely" and would if necessary make changes in consultation with the authorities.  

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