Carriers begin suspending service to China as coronavirus outbreak worsens

On the eve of an emergency meeting during which the World Health Organization could declare an international health emergency, a number of airlines announced plans to reduce or suspend service to China because of the fast-spreading coronavirus.

WHO’s Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon in Geneva. To this point, the WHO has not declared the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” but the Emergency Committee and the organization’s director general could make that determination at the meeting. In so doing, the WHO would be saying that a coordinated and immediate international response is needed to protect public health. Such a declaration could result in more aggressive international measures to contain the disease.

Delta said Wednesday it is cutting its weekly service to China by half because of “significantly reduced customer demand.” Delta operates 42 flights a week to China and is reducing that to 21, effective Feb. 6 through April 30. The airline said it may make additional adjustments as the situation evolves.

Also Wednesday, Air Canada said it was suspending its flights to Beijing and Shanghai, effective Thursday through the end of February. The Canadian government is recommending that all nonessential travel to mainland China be avoided. Air Canada flies to China from Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Lufthansa Group said its carriers — Lufthansa, Austrian and Swiss — were suspending flights to mainland China until Feb. 9 but that flights to and from Hong Kong would continue. In addition, Lufthansa said it would not accept bookings for flights to or from mainland China until the end of February.

Dutch carrier KLM is suspending flights to Chengdu and Hangzhou on Thursday and to Xiamen on Friday but said it does not see a need, based on current information, to suspend all of its China operation. Instead it will continue flying daily to Beijing and will reduce weekly Shanghai service to seven flights from 11. It is also providing face masks to crew on request.

British Airways said it has immediately suspended all flights to China until Friday, while it assesses the situation. Flights to Hong Kong remain unaffected.

Finnair is canceling its three weekly flights from Helsinki to Beijing and its twice weekly flights to Nanjing until the end of March.

United said Tuesday it would suspend some flights to China beginning Saturday.

The widebody jets used on long-haul flights carry a significant amount of freight below deck, and if passenger flights are indefinitely scratched a huge amount of capacity that shippers depend on goes away.

Nearly 6.100 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed globally, with all but 68 of them in China, where 132 people have died, according to WHO data. Cases have have confirmed in 15 other countries