China slashes inbound and outbound international flights in drastic action to curtail imported coronavirus cases

Liu Zhen

China’s aviation regulator has slashed the number of international flights in and out of the country, in a move to curtail air travel and limit the rising number of imported Covid-19 cases.

From Sunday, Chinese airlines will be allowed to fly just one weekly route to one city per country, operating it at no more than 75 per cent capacity, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said.

Similarly, overseas carriers will be limited to one weekly service to China, also at three-quarters capacity, it said.

The statement came before the foreign ministry announced that China would ban the entry of most foreigners starting at midnight on Friday. With several exceptions, including transit visas and foreigners arriving via Hong Kong and Macau with short-term entry permits, entry visas issued to foreigners will be suspended as an “interim measure”, according to a statement issued late on Thursday.

The CAAC said: “To resolutely contain the increasing risks of imported Covid-19 cases, and in accordance with the requirements of the State Council for joint prevention and control of the pandemic, [the regulator] has decided to further reduce the number of international passenger flights.”

There might be further reductions to inbound and outbound international flights if the pandemic deteriorated, it said.

As many as 1,073 international flights are expected to arrive in China this week, according to government data. Airlines will be allowed to use their capacity to carry cargo in and out of China, the regulator said.

The move came after Europe surpassed mainland China as the new epicentre of the Covid-19 pandemic, while domestic cases have tapered off for the past week.

While local cases have eased, imported cases carried by inbound travellers had jumped, adding 67 new infections on Wednesday alone, boosting the total number of confirmed imported cases to 541, according to health authorities. Another 58 suspected cases also owe their origins to sources outside mainland China, mostly involving Chinese citizens returning from abroad.

The drastic cuts in international flights add to the quarantines imposed by Beijing, Shanghai and at least half a dozen Chinese cities and provinces that operate international airports, that put all visitors in mandatory 14-day quarantine, regardless of their points of origin.

Flights to the Chinese capital are also being diverted to a dozen cities and neighbouring provinces including Shandong, Zhejiang, where all passengers must be tested for the coronavirus upon disembarkation, before those cleared of the pathogen are allowed back on the aircraft to Beijing.

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