UAE suspends most China flights

DUBAI – The United Arab Emirates is the latest country to announce suspension of flights to and from China — with the exception of the capital Beijing — in an effort to contain the new coronavirus, its state-run WAM news agency announced Monday.

The suspension will come into effect on Feb. 5, the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) said in a statement.

“We continue to put our confidence in the Chinese government’s efforts to control and contain the situation,” the GCAA said, adding that all passengers traveling from Beijing International Airport will undergo a six to eight hour comprehensive medical screening at the airport before boarding.

The announcement falls in line with a growing number of governments around the world cutting commercial transport routes to China as the death and infection count from the deadly new coronavirus mounts. The disease has killed more than 360 and sickened more than 17,000, the vast majority in China.

Over the weekend, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt, Australia, Italy, Finland and Indonesia counted among several countries temporarily halting flights to the epidemic-stricken country, with some barring entry to Chinese citizens or foreign nationals who have visited China in recent weeks.

The UAE has announced five confirmed cases of the respiratory infection in the past week, all of which trace back to Wuhan, China, the city of 11 million where the virus first appeared. The UAE is home to national carriers Emirates Airline and Etihad.

The GCAA’s statement noted that all flights to and from Wuhan from the UAE have been canceled since Jan. 23.

Emirates Airline, based in Dubai, is the world’s largest A380 operator and top-five largest airline in terms of passenger and freight ton kilometers flown. Its base, Dubai International Airport, was ranked the world’s busiest airport in terms of passenger traffic last year.

Major airlines temporarily suspending China routes include American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, Air Canada, British Airways, KLM, Qatar Airways and Egypt Air.

Public health officials and the World Health Organization have warned against the travel bans, saying they can cause more harm than good.

“Although travel restrictions may intuitively seem like the right thing to do, this is not something that WHO usually recommends,” Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesperson, told press in late January. “This is because of the social disruption they cause and the intensive use of resources required.” Officials also said the bans could wreak a financial toll on the country dealing with the crisis and discourage transparency.

China’s National Health Commission earlier confirmed 17,205 cases of the coronavirus in the country and 361 deaths.

Chinese markets opened down 9% on Monday morning as local businesses reel from closures across the country.

Business has been shut down in more than half of China — 21 provinces that accounted for more than 80% of national GDP last year — in an effort to contain the virus. More than 50 million people in China are effectively on travel lockdown while the country struggles to respond to the rising volume of cases. (AFP)