China bans flights from US as Covid-19 measures intensify

HONG KONG — Chinese aviation authorities have ordered more flights from the US to be canceled in the coming weeks, along with flights from countries such as France, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, citing Covid-19 containment rules.

List released Friday by the Civil Aviation Administration of China bans American Airlines Group again Inc.

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and Delta Air Lines Inc.

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flights to Shanghai from Dallas and Detroit respectively. They join dozens of other flights from the US, including United Airlines Holdings Inc.

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and Chinese airlines, which have been on the list since the beginning of the year, further limiting transit options to and from China. Other flights by domestic and foreign airlines banned by authorities in recent days travel routes such as Paris-Shanghai, Jakarta-Wuhan and Abu Dhabi-Shanghai.

Under previously announced rules, airlines whose flights arrive with more than five Covid-19 positive patients will have that route suspended for two weeks; 10 or more cases, four weeks.

The suspensions, just weeks before the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, deepen China’s isolation from the rest of the world and highlight the costs of its “zero Covid” policy, especially if the Omicron variant – which is highly transferable and a seems to have shorter incubation period – continues its worldwide spread.

China’s border controls were among the strictest in the world during the pandemic, with borders largely closed since March 2020 and international flights falling sharply from pre-pandemic levels. Approval is required to enter the country, and those who obtain visas must undergo quarantines, which can last up to 28 days in some cities.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are proactively contacting affected customers to notify them of this schedule change and to discuss their options,” a United Airlines spokeswoman said this week. American and Delta did not immediately respond to inquiries sent outside normal business hours.

From mass tests to lockdowns, China is on high alert to keep the coronavirus at bay in the run-up to the Winter Olympics. WSJ examines the zero-covid strategy in the city of Xi’an to see how it has sparked resistance from residents and affected chipmakers. Photo: Shao Rui/Zuma Press, Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

Just last week, the US Chamber of Commerce in China said it had struck a deal with government officials to launch an accelerated program to facilitate international business travel, the disruption of which is a major concern among foreign businessmen. The flight bans can complicate those plans.

China reported 143 locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, mainly in central Henan province and Tianjin municipality, near Beijing.

Even as other countries have moved away from lockdowns, China has stuck to a “zero Covid” strategy that is taking an increasing toll on its people and economy. The approach has been seen recently with city locks and business shutdowns after the Omicron cases were found in several parts of the country.

“The impact of the no-fly zone on people and trade flows is painful, but temporary,” said Mayur Patel, Asia chief for OAG Aviation, an air travel data and intelligence company, adding that the early months of the pandemic were much more severe. disruptive. Chinese regulators are being extra cautious, he said, given Omicron outbreaks around the world and the upcoming Winter Olympics.

As the number of flight cancellations rises, Washington has expressed concern.

“China’s actions are inconsistent with its obligations under the US-China air transport agreement,” a spokesman for the US Department of Transportation said this week. “We are in discussions with the PRC about this and we reserve the right to take regulatory action where necessary.”

Searches on Google Flights and Trip.com,

a Shanghai-based travel website, over the next few weeks showed cumbersome options from Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities to destinations in the US, with no apparent direct flights and many options with three stops and flight times of 30 to 40 hours. A direct flight from Shanghai to New York usually takes about 15 hours.

Hong Kong banned flights from the US and several other countries for two weeks from Jan. 7 after a cluster of Omicron infections that also prompted the city to shut down leisure areas such as bars and gyms. According to the Hong Kong International Airport website, city authorities on Friday banned transit passengers who have spent the past three weeks in one of dozens of countries, including the US, until Feb. 15. That makes the passage to the mainland even more complicated.

The New Year’s holiday, traditionally a time when people from all over the country and the world return home to see their families, is only two weeks off. It is the third time in a row that the holiday has been disrupted by the pandemic.

On Weibo, a popular Chinese Twitter-like social media site, posts from users who say they are Chinese living abroad complained about the increased travel restrictions.

One of them, who identified herself as a college student studying in the US, posted about vivid dreams she had of returning to her hometown of Chongqing, which she would be doing this month.

In one message, she begged Delta to “please fix this problem quickly,” before adding in another, “I just miss home so much.”

write to Natasha Khan at natasha.khan@wsj.com

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