Washington : The US will be banning all commercial flights to China from January 19 as Beijing tries to keep coronavirus infections at bay ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Starting next week, there are likely to be no commercial flights bound for Beijing ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, reported CNN. Beginning January 19 and continuing for at least two weeks, all flights from the United States to China have either been cancelled or are likely to be suspended because of Chinese aviation regulations, according to CNN Business research of government announcements and published flight schedules.
As of Friday, only two flights still appeared eligible to operate for that period, one of them with United Airlines (UAL).
The Beijing Winter Games open on February 4, and participants are mostly taking special flights restricted to people with Olympics credentials as part of a strict bubble that authorities are implementing around the event, reported CNN.
Since June, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has applied a so-called "circuit-breaker" rule to international flights. That rule means that a flight is automatically suspended for two weeks if five or more passengers test positive upon landing in China. If 10 or more passengers test positive, the suspension period increases.
China has defended its "circuit-breaker" regulations as "an important step to reduce the risk of cross-border spread of the epidemic."
"The measures, which are open and fair, apply equally to both Chinese and foreign airlines," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in August.
"For airlines that do not meet the conditions to trigger the circuit-breaker, China has never applied relevant measures on them," said Hua.
From December 24 to January 12, more than a third of the 9,356 international flights scheduled to depart for China -- already a fraction of pre-pandemic levels -- were cancelled, according to data from Umetrip, an app developed by Chinese state-owned aviation industry IT provider TravelSky, reported CNN.
During this period, a growing number of passengers on flights from the United States -- operated by both US and Chinese carriers -- tested positive upon arrival in China, triggering a wave of cancellations just ahead of the Olympics and the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in China.
Three US carriers -- United (UAL), Delta (DAL) and American Airlines (AAL) -- operate 10 flights per week into Shanghai, China's biggest city, where a steady rise of COVID cases among international arrivals has seen local officials under growing pressure to tighten containment measures, reported CNN.
The city on Thursday recorded five new locally transmitted cases, all linked to a resident who had recently returned from the United States.
China largely sealed off its borders in March 2020 and has continued to stick to its strict zero-COVID policy. Flights to and from China-- the world's second-biggest air travel market after the US.