Coronavirus: China lashes out at countries over suspending flights

 Passengers wearing protective masks waiting to board a plane at Shanghai Pudong Airport on Feb 4, 2020.
Passengers wearing protective masks waiting to board a plane at Shanghai Pudong Airport on Feb 4, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

China has so far arranged 12 evacuations of its citizens from around the world, including Singapore, and taken home more than 1,500 Hubei residents, officials said on Thursday (Feb 6).

The authorities vowed to help its remaining citizens stranded overseas even as it slammed countries for suspending flights to and from China as they attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus that has plagued the Hubei province.

A chartered China Eastern airline plane carrying 147 residents from the provincial capital Wuhan left Changi Airport on Wednesday afternoon, the Chinese media reported.

At a regular foreign ministry briefing on Thursday, spokesman Hua Chunying blamed "extreme restrictions" taken by some countries for leaving Chinese nationals stuck abroad, and said Beijing has made its objections known officially to these countries.

"I must stress that certain countries' ill-advised decisions to suspend flights to and from China are neither cool-headed nor rational," she said, adding that these actions go against World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Civil Aviation Organisation recommendations.

"It has had direct impact on bilateral personnel exchange and cooperation. China is strongly concerned and dissatisfied."

Ms Hua said her ministry and Chinese diplomatic missions overseas have been aiding Chinese travellers in changing their flights or transits in other countries.

Beijing's growing anger at its increasing isolation comes as the death toll from the disease exceeded 500 yesterday, with more than 28,000 people stricken.

On Thursday, the Civil Aviation Administration's director of transport, Mr Yu Biao, told reporters that his agency has organised 12 chartered flights to retrieve more than 1,500 Hubei residents and will continue to make such arrangements.

Neither he nor Ms Hua gave details about how many Chinese citizens have not been repatriated.

On Wednesday, it sent a China Eastern plane from Shanghai to Singapore to pick up 147 Hubei passengers, arriving in Wuhan that evening.

Chinese media reported that two medical workers were on board the plane, and the group was checked in separately from regular passengers at Changi Airport.

Chinese authorities had earlier also evacuated citizens from Bangkok, Krabi, Ho Chi Minh and Kota Kinabalu.

As many as 30 airlines have cut flights to various cities in China, with some, like American Airlines, Air France, British Airways, Finnair and Qatar Airways suspending all flights to the country.

 
 
 

WHO on Wednesday said it will work with the travel and tourism industry to identify "real and perceived risks experienced in the industry" and find solutions.

The Chinese civil aviation authority has urged domestic carriers to continue flying international routes and find ways to cope with the plunging demand.

On Thursday, Mr Yu said his administration has been in touch with counterparts in over 70 countries to assure them of China's prevention and control measures on international flights.

"We hope this could eliminate unnecessary worries of those countries," he said.

The outbreak has forced postponement and cancellations of large-scale events, including April's China Import and Export Fair, better known as Canton Fair, and China Development Forum, a high-level annual business conference.