In a somewhat tit for tat counter-move, the US said on Friday that it was banning 44 passenger flights to China.
The development follows Beijing’s restriction of US passenger flights as part of its COVID-19 agreement.
As part of its “circuit breaker” strategy, China is allowing international flyers to enter its borders. It halts the routes when too many COVID-19 infections are brought in on aircraft under this provision.
When passengers who tested negative for Covid before departure later tested positive after arrival in China, China’s aviation authority employed the circuit breaker policy to cancel flights by American, Delta, and United airlines.
In its decision issued on Friday, the US Department of Transportation stated that “activities impeding the operations of Delta, American, and United as outlined above are detrimental to the public interest and merit appropriate corrective action by the department”.
“US carriers who follow all applicable Chinese rules on pre-departure and in-flight processes should not be punished if passengers later test positive for COVID-19 post-arrival”, it stated.
The 44 flights prohibited by the US were operated by Chinese carriers and were planned to depart from the US between January 30 and March 29. Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines operate them. This is only three weeks before the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
After recording its first community case of the Omicron type last weekend, the Chinese capital has already delayed hundreds of flights and enhanced testing.
Chinese officials have followed a stringent “zero-Covid” policy, with strong border controls and targeted lockdowns – a plan that has come under scrutiny as several clusters have popped up around the nation in the run-up to the Winter Olympics.