Air Links Severed with China as Coronavirus Expands

Coronavirus, China, ASEAN, crisis, ban

Chinese tourists at Erawan shrine on Tuesday (Bangkok Post)

As the coronavirus continues to claim more victims, airlines and countries in Southeast Asia close their borders to China while airlines stop flying to the country. Only a few airlines continue to offer flights…

As the toll of victims of Wuhan coronavirus continues to grow – on Sunday February 2nd, the number of victims reached over 300 deads and over 14,000 infected persons, authorities in Southeast Asia are taking further measures to contain the spreading of the virus. Around two dozen other countries and regions have reported more than 130 cases, with the first fatal case announced in the Philippines of a 44-year old patient originated from Wuhan.

Thailand is so far the most affected country in ASEAN. Thailand Ministry of Health indicated that 19 people have been detected with the coronavirus with 12 of them being treated in hospitals while seven were released already while 274 are being monitored. They are high concern about further cases as the Kingdom recorded 25,000 Chinese travellers in tourism spots over the Chinese New Year holiday.

Singapore has now 18 declared cases, Malaysia 8, Vietnam 7, Cambodia and the Philippines one. Indonesia, Laos and Brunei seem to be immune for the time being.

Singapore decided not to issue visas anymore to Chinese from Hubei province-where Wuhan is located- and suspended its 96-hour transit visa. Sarawak in East Malaysia introduced last week a temporary ban on visitors from China as well as foreigners who have been to China in the last 14 days. Myanmar also suspended visa on arrivals for Chinese travellers. Latest is Indonesia which decided this Monday to stop issuing visas for Chinese nationals and restrict access to the country to anyone which visited China in the last 14 days.

The Philippines and Vietnam have been the most radical with no visa anymore issued to any Chinese nationals. However in Thailand, so far no change in visa regulations has been implemented for Chinese travellers although many voices asked the government to terminate the current free visa-on-arrival system. In Lao PDR, the country has sealed off all Golden Triangle road borders with China and Myanmar and suspended flights to China.

As air traffic is now collapsing between Southeast Asia and Mainland China- as most passengers on flights are actually Chinese nationals- airlines start to reduce or even cancel frequencies. Singapore Airlines and its affiliates Silk Air and Scoot announced reducing capacity on some of its routes to mainland China. The cuts include flights to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Chengdu, Xiamen and Chongqing, some of which are flown by regional arm SilkAir, it said on its Facebook page. Malaysia Airlines reduced its frequencies as well.

On Saturday Thai Airways international announced the reduction of all its flights to and from China. Thailand national carrier cancels a daily frequency to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou until the end of the month while reducing frequencies to Chengdu and Xiamen to four weekly services and to Kunming to three weekly frequencies. Vietnam took on Saturday the decision to suspend all flights to China -including to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. It finally revoked its ban for Taiwan following negotiations with Taiwanese authorities. Indonesian and Philippines carriers have all suspended their services to China over the week end.