BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's aviation authority will consider increasing international flights as long as imported coronavirus risks are under control, state media China News reported on Wednesday (May 27), citing the agency's deputy director Li Jian.
The maximum number of international flights now allowed is 134 a week under restrictions imposed on March 29 to stop cases of the new coronavirus being imported. But the number would be increased to 407 a week from June 1, said Mr Li of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
Mr Li did not elaborate on which carriers would be operating the new flights.
Mainland carriers are allowed to fly just one flight a week on one route to any country, while foreign airlines have been allowed to operate just one flight a week to China. But many foreign airlines have not been flying to China at all because they suspended services before the CAAC flight curbs.
Mr Li said it was likely that the number of flights would be fewer than 407, given expected fluctuating demand on some routes.
The CAAC has come under fierce criticism from Chinese people stranded abroad for drastically reducing the number of international flights in March.
The agency has been flooded with tens of thousands of social media comments by Chinese citizens criticising it and the Chinese government for the small number of flight options to bring people home from abroad.
Besides leaving those abroad with fewer options if they want to return, the scarcity has created a frenzied market for scalpers who are charging exorbitant rates for tickets.
While Beijing has already arranged many repatriation charter flights, it has fuelled complaints that they are far from enough. An estimated 1.42 million Chinese students were overseas as of early April, the Foreign Ministry has said.
"I brought a Chinese national flag with me when I left the country, thinking the motherland would always have my back," said Weibo user Yangrouchuanchuan, describing herself as a Chinese student in New York, on the social media platform.
"But now I cannot even get a ticket home. Children from ordinary families cannot afford charter fights, cannot afford a flight ticket," she said. She tagged the account of caacnews.com.cn, a CAAC affiliated website.
Mr Cui Yongyuan, a celebrity blogger and former state television host, said in a video posted on YouTube: "Have a think, CAAC. What have you been doing everyday? Just freeloading?"
The CAAC did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. It also did not respond to the comments left on its social media accounts, but stopped allowing people to post comments on one of them.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China has arranged charter flights to repatriate Chinese citizens, and will continue to work with Chinese embassies to protect and help its people abroad.
Ms Duan Meifang, 61, said she arrived in Edinburgh in October to visit her daughter, but has not been able to return to China.
She said she bought tickets seven times, only for the flights to be cancelled, and has yet to receive refunds worth a total of 138,000 yuan (S$27,344).
"The road back home is nowhere in sight," Ms Duan said.