China suspends more US flights, further cutting access

BEIJING: China on Wednesday (January 12) ordered the suspension of six more US flights over the next few weeks after an increase in the number of passengers who tested positive for COVID-19. This brings the number of cancellations this year to 70 in a schedule that had already been drastically reduced.

The aviation regulator said it would suspend two United Airlines flights from San Francisco to Shanghai starting the week of January 24, after seven passengers tested positive on a recent flight.

It will also suspend four China Southern Airlines flights from Los Angeles to Guangzhou starting the week of January 31, a move that would also affect return flights in February.

Before the latest cancellations, three U.S. airlines and four Chinese carriers operated about 20 flights per week between countries, well below the figure of more than 100 per week before the pandemic.

China has also suspended its links with other countries. On Wednesday, it suspended a total of six flights from France and Canada.

But the number of deleted US flights has increased since December, as infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant skyrocket to record highs in the United States.

Beijing and Washington have been fighting over air services since the start of the pandemic. In August, the US Department of Transportation limited four flights from Chinese carriers to 40 percent of passenger capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed identical limits on four United Airlines flights.

China has virtually closed its borders to travelers, reducing the total number of international flights to just 200 per week, or 2% of pre-pandemic levels, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC ).

What is effectively a zero COVID policy has curbed any spread in China, where it first appeared two years ago, but has also left the country vulnerable to further economic disruption as it strives to limit local outbreaks, analysts said.

Last week, Hong Kong, a major transportation hub, announced a two-week ban on inbound flights from eight countries, including Britain and the United States.

Travelers, including overseas Chinese trying to get home, have had to scramble for expensive tickets, if they can find them.

A search of the popular Chinese site on Wednesday showed that no direct flights from the United States to China were available for the remainder of January.

In February, Delta’s weekly Seattle-Shanghai flight was selling for about 40,000 yuan (US $ 6,285) on Tuesday.

“Now returning to China is like an impossible mission. More and more flights are being suspended,” an annoyed Chinese user of the Weibo social media platform said on Tuesday.

“Fuck you, Omicron. I haven’t been home for two years now.


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