Due to its increased transmissibility and shorter incubation period, the Omicron variant has set off a wave of flight cancellations that quite inconveniently coincide with both the February 4 start of the Winter Olympics in Beijing and the Lunar New Year, which this year falls on February 1 and is China’s most important holiday.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) released a list of freshly banned flights on Friday, including American Airlines and Delta Air Lines routes, respectively bound from Dallas and Detroit to Shanghai. Dozens of other flights scheduled to fly from the U.S. to China aboard both Chinese and American air carriers have also been suspended since the start of 2022, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Between December 24 and January 12, China’s circuit-breakers regulations resulted in the cancellation of over one-third of the 9,356 international flights that had been set to take passengers to The Middle Kingdom.
Under Chinese regulators’ so-called “circuit-breaker” rules (in place since June 2021), commercial aviation routes are being suspended for at least two weeks any time a flight touches down in China carrying more than five passengers who come up COVID-positive and suspended for four weeks when 10 or more people test positive post-arrival.
Research conducted by CNN Business into official announcements and published flight schedules indicated that there will be next-to-no commercial flights from the U.S. to China for at least two weeks, starting from January 19. At the time of publication, the outlet said, “only two flights still appeared eligible to operate for that period, one of them with United Airlines.”
With Omicron spreading like wildfire around the globe, the Chinese government continues to adhere to its zero-COVID policy—which, as a CNN report recently phrased it, “relies on a playbook of mass testing, extensive quarantines and snap lockdowns to stamp out any resurgence of the virus.” Although, its unwavering stance is becoming increasingly problematic for China’s people and economy, as well as frustrating for U.S. officials.
“China’s actions are inconsistent with its obligations under the U.S.-China Air Transport Agreement,” a U.S. Department of Transportation spokesman said earlier this week. “We are engaging with the PRC on this, and we retain the right to take regulatory measures as appropriate.” Hong Kong, an important gateway to the mainland, also banned flights coming from the U.S. and multiple other nations for two weeks from January 7 after a community cluster of Omicron infections stemmed from foreign flight crew members, ending its months-long track record of zero COVID-19 cases.