China Bans Flights From U.S. as Covid-19 Measures Intensify

HONG KONG—Chinese aviation authorities ordered multiple U.S.-China flights canceled for the coming weeks, along with other routes from countries including France, Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates, citing the country’s Covid-19 containment rules.

In recent days, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has ordered multiple bans on domestic and foreign airlines. Their routes varied—in the latest announcements, those included flights from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, Paris to Shanghai, Jakarta to Wuhan and Abu Dhabi to Shanghai.

The regulator invoked previously announced rules, which say flights with more than five Covid-19 positive patients would have that route canceled for two weeks. Those with 10 or more cases would be suspended for four weeks.

The move, coming just weeks ahead of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, deepens China’s isolation from the rest of the world and highlights the costs of its “zero Covid” policy, especially as the Omicron variant—which is highly transmissible and seems to have a shorter incubation period—continues its global spread.

China’s border controls have been among the toughest in the world throughout the pandemic, with borders mostly shut since March 2020 and the number of international flights have been severely reduced when compared with pre-pandemic levels. Arrivals require special government approval to enter the country and those who obtain a visa must undergo quarantines, which in some cities can stretch to 28 days.

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

The Civil Aviation Administration of China couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

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

Even as other countries have moved away from lockdowns, China has held firm to its “zero Covid” strategy despite a mounting toll on its people and economy. Its approach has been on display recently with city lockdowns and business shutdowns after the discovery of Omicron cases in several parts of the country.

With flight cancellations increasing, Washington has expressed concerns over the Chinese measures.

“China’s actions are inconsistent with its obligations under the U.S.-China Air Transport Agreement. We are engaging with the PRC on this and we retain the right to take regulatory measures as appropriate,” a spokesman from the U.S. Department of Transportation said this week.

The order issued this week included

United Airlines Holdings Inc.

UAL 3.50%

along with other international and Chinese airlines, according to the CAAC announcements.

“We are proactively reaching out to impacted customers to notify them of this schedule change and discuss their options,” a United Airlines spokeswoman said this week.

In Hong Kong, flights from the U.S. and several other countries have been banned for two weeks since Jan. 7 after a cluster of Omicron infections prompted the city to lock down leisure venues such as bars and gyms.

Write to Natasha Khan at [email protected]

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