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Coronavirus: Africa puts China in quarantine

By Aurélie M'Bida
Posted on Monday, 3 February 2020 13:42, updated on Tuesday, 11 February 2020 10:18

A Royal Air Maroc Boeing (illustration). © Boeing

Royal Air Maroc, RwandAir, Kenya Airways ... Six out of eight African airlines with flights to China have suspended flights to and from China.

However, Ethiopian Airlines and Air Algérie have opted to continue operating their China routes.

There is now one suspected case of coronavirus in Ethiopia, according to the Ethiopian Public Health Institute.

In a statement issued on 25 January, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicated that it “is closely monitoring developments related to the Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan (China) and is actively engaged with the World Health Organization (WHO) Secretariat, ICAO and the US Centers for Disease Control.”

The coronavirus outbreak that has emerged in China is becoming a broader threat: according to the Chinese authorities, the number of infected individuals has increased to more than 11,700, while over 250 deaths have been reported.

Following this news, on Thursday, 30 January, WHO declared the outbreak “a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.”

As preventive measures are being stepped up in several African countries, the continent’s airlines are one-by-one announcing the suspension of their flights to and from China.

Royal Air Maroc: flights suspended

The Moroccan national carrier indicated on 30 January that it would temporarily suspend flights to Beijing from 31 January through 29 February 2020 “due to a sharp drop in demand for flights from Casablanca to Beijing and vice versa.”

The airline added that Royal Air Maroc customers with scheduled departures after 31 January will be contacted directly and that “new travel dates will be offered at no additional cost.”

Royal Air Maroc inaugurated its first flight between Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport and Beijing Daxing International Airport on 16 January via a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. In partnership with China-based travel company Ctrip, the Moroccan National Tourist Office sought to promote Morocco as a tourist destination, with three scheduled flights a week.

RwandAir: flights suspended

Operating a direct route between Kigali-Guangzhou and Guangzhou-Kigali, RwandAir has temporarily halted all flights to and from China as from 31 January until further notice. “This decision was made after WHO officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency.”

The recently added Kigali-Guangzhou route, connecting China’s Guangdong Province (South China) and including a stopover in Mumbai, India, made its debut on 18 June 2019. The service offers round-trip flights via an Airbus A330 three times a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. In a statement released on 31 January, RwandAir explained that flights between Kigali and Mumbai would continue operating.

Kenya Airways: flights suspended

Kenya Airways has taken similar precautions. On 31 January, the carrier announced that it was suspending service to and from Guangzhou until further notice, while also clarifying that its service between Nairobi and Bangkok would remain operational.

After dropping its Hong Kong and Hanoi services in 2017, Kenya Airways increased its routes to and from Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport from four to seven flights per week.

Air Mauritius: flights suspended

On 29 January, Air Mauritius announced it was suspending all direct flights to and from Shanghai “due to the number of persons infected by the coronavirus and the massive amount of cancellations to and from Shanghai.”

Indicating that the suspension would take effect on 31 January, the airline added that “alternative arrangements” would be made for “passengers travelling to and from mainland China via our hubs in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.”

Air Madagascar: flights suspended

Air Madagascar, which has a route from Antananarivo to Guangzhou in partnership with Air Austral, has temporarily suspended flights to the city in Guangdong Province as from 1 February due to the coronavirus outbreak slamming China.

According to an Air Austral statement issued on 31 January, “In concertation with the regional health authority [Agence régionale de santé – ARS], the company is closely following developments in the situation and will make a decision in mid-February regarding the possible renewal of the measure.”

Egyptair: flights suspended

Egypt’s national carrier specified in a company press release published on 30 January that it would suspend all flights to and from Hangzhou as from 1 February and, as from 4 February, all routes to and from Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Ethiopian Airlines: flights still operating

Contrary to most other African carriers, the continent’s number one airline decided to continue operating its flights to and from China. In a press release issued on Thursday, 30 January, Ethiopian Airlines said that “China is one of the strongest and one of the oldest markets for Ethiopian Airlines. We have been connecting the great Chinese nation with the entire continent of Africa for almost half a century and it is our growth strategic market.”

Headed by Tewolde GebreMariam, the decision is in line with the company’s culture and policy of supporting countries undergoing major hardships, as a person very familiar with the Addis Ababa-based carrier revealed.

According to the same source, “The continued operation of their flights is part of their strategy to position themselves as long-term partners.” The source also pointed out that not so long ago, “when many companies halted their flights in Nigeria due to exchange rate issues related to the naira’s devaluation,” the Ethiopian carrier did not follow suit.

Ethiopian Airlines operates regular direct flights to and from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong.

Offering some 35 passenger flights per week with direct, daily service (except for Chengdu, offered three times a week) and 15 cargo flights, China represents the company’s largest market outside Africa.

The airline said the following in a press release: “We are also working together with all relevant Chinese and Ethiopian [a]uthorities to protect our passengers and our crew from the [c]oronavirus disease in full compliance with IATA, WHO, CDC guidelines.”

Air Algérie: flights still operating

At this time, flights operated by Algeria’s national carrier “have not been cancelled because of the spread of the coronavirus,” as Air Algérie spokesman Amine Andaloussi told Algeria Press Service (APS).

Just one of the national carrier’s flights between Algiers and Beijing, the only route operated by Air Algérie to and from China, was postponed. The service on Sunday, 26 January was bumped to Thursday, 30 January “due to the Chinese New Year.”

Flights to Beijing, which operate two times a week on Sundays and Thursdays, are set to resume as normal on Thursday, 6 February.

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