According to sources, Chinese officials have told foreign airlines that they must have more empty seats on international flights arriving at Shanghai’s Pudong airport as part of an attempt to prevent the importation of COVID-19 cases.
Shanghai, China’s financial centre and most populated city, is dealing with the country’s greatest COVID outbreak, which has shut down nearly all of its 26 million citizens and severely disrupted daily life and business.
As per two sources familiar with the situation, flights arriving in Shanghai from other countries will have to have a load factor – an airline industry measure of seat occupancy – of merely 40% beginning next Monday until the end of the month. This compares to a prior load factor cap of 75%, as air authorities seek to limit international passenger arrivals and prevent infectious diseases from spreading within planes.
The decision is expected to add to the woes of many tourists who are stranded abroad, as the international capacity to and from China has remained a fraction of what it was pre-COVID. The country has maintained a zero-COVID policy, eradicating all cases regardless of the economic repercussions.
“If they cannot get COVID under control (in Shanghai) and extend it beyond April, that’s going to be very challenging for everyone,” said an industry source.
In recent months, the country’s aviation regulator has also suspended a growing number of international flights under its “circuit breaker” system as Omicron cases have risen overseas, forcing the US government to respond and cancel flights by Chinese carriers. Domestic flights to Shanghai have already been diverted to land elsewhere from March 21 to May 1, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
The CAAC did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
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