China suspends 26 more air routes, 4 from US, over COVID-19 infections

Alyssa Chen and Dylan Duan, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jan 15 2022 09:09 AM

People wearing protective masks walk on a street, following new COVID-19 cases in Shanghai, on January 14, 2022. Aly Song, Reuters
People wearing protective masks walk on a street, following new COVID-19 cases in Shanghai, on January 14, 2022. Aly Song, Reuters

Four flights from the United States were among 26 suspended by China on Friday as it moved to lower the risk of further Covid-19 infections being imported.

The suspensions, which take effect from the week of January 24, include two flights apiece operated by American Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The two carriers' last flights to land in China respectively carried seven and nine passengers who tested positive, the Chinese aviation authority said.

The 26 routes affected included flights from Melbourne, Frankfurt, Paris, Vancouver, Toronto, Milan and Cairo.

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It took to 64 the total number of inbound flights from the United States that China has suspended this year, based on figures from the aviation regulator's website.

The US government on Wednesday said China's flight cancellations were "inconsistent with its obligations under the US China Transport Agreement".

China had already in September cut the total number of flights heading into the country to only 200 a week - 2 per cent of the pre-pandemic level - according to the aviation authority.

Shanghai, which handles a large portion of international flights into the country, on Friday reported two new local symptomatic and three asymptomatic infections, all traced to an imported asymptomatic case reported on Tuesday - that of a Chinese student studying in the United States who had arrived in China in late December.

Zhang Wenhong, a senior infectious diseases expert, said that imported cases were putting pressure on China's efforts to contain the virus, with the Omicron variant surging across the globe.

"Circuit-breaker" flight cancellations have been enforced by the Civil Aviation Administration of China as the country maintains stringent border restrictions to try to prevent imported infections spreading locally.

It has powers to suspend a carrier from operating a route if passengers are found to have Covid-19. If five or more test positive on a flight, the carrier will be suspended from operating the route for two weeks. When cases reach 10 or more, the suspension will be increased to four weeks.

All China-bound travellers are required to obtain a health code from a Chinese embassy or consulate before departure. To get one, people need to present a negative Covid-19 test result and an antibody test from within the two days preceding their flight, and records of vaccination if they have been inoculated.

After landing in the country, they must spend at least 14 days in quarantine, and some must complete a further health monitoring period of seven days.

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