Airlines halt China flights as coronavirus toll hits 132

A Public Health England sign warns passengers arriving on flights into the UK about the coronavirus that has been detected in Wuhan, China at Terminal 4 of London Heathrow Airport on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 29 January 2020

Airlines halt China flights as coronavirus toll hits 132

  • A growing number of governments have in recent days advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China
  • British Airways was the first major airline to announce a total suspension of flights to and from China

WUHAN, China: Foreign airlines began suspending flights to and from China on Wednesday as global fears mounted over a coronavirus epidemic that has killed 132 people and infected nearly 6,000.
The announcements came hours after countries began airlifts to evacuate foreigners trapped in Wuhan, the quarantined central Chinese city of 11 million people at the epicenter of the health emergency.
A growing number of governments, including the United States, Britain and Germany, have in recent days advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China over concerns about the viral outbreak.
China itself on Tuesday urged its citizens to delay trips abroad to avoid spreading the limit further global contagion, with at least 15 countries having confirmed cases of the disease.
The United Arab Emirates reported the first known case in the Middle East on Wednesday.
British Airways was the first major airline to announce a total suspension of flights to and from China, citing the travel advice of the foreign office.
“We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” BA said in a statement on Wednesday.
Indonesia’s Lion Air Group, Southeast Asia’s biggest carrier by fleet size, then said it would halt services to and from China from Saturday “until further notice.”
In Myanmar, the three airlines that have routes into neighboring China also said those flights would also be suspended from Saturday.
Cathay Pacific also cut flights, citing low demand and the Hong Kong government’s response plan against the virus.
And in one of the most dramatic measures, the tiny Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea announced Wednesday that travelers from Asia would not be allowed in.
However, many other airlines said they were continuing their China services.
China has taken other extraordinary measures to try and stop the disease spreading, including bans on tour groups traveling overseas, suspending schools and extending the Lunar New Year holiday.
Authorities also last week imposed transport bans in and around Wuhan in an unprecedented quarantine effort, leaving more than 50 million people shuttered in their homes.
“This is the first day since the lockdown that I’ve had to go out,” a man in his 50s said on the mostly deserted streets of the industrial city on Wednesday.
“I have no choice because I need to buy food today.”
Thousands of foreigners have been among those trapped in Wuhan, which has become a near ghost-town with car travel banned and residents staying indoors.
Countries have scrambled for days to try and get their citizens out of Wuhan safely, but have faced huge logistical, medical and bureaucratic hurdles.
A US charter flight left Wuhan on Wednesday with about 200 Americans on board, including consulate staff.
Another 200 people were aboard a Japanese flight which landed in Tokyo on Wednesday morning.
Medical professionals were on the plane to carry out checks but officials said they had no legal basis to forcibly quarantine people who have not tested positive for the virus.
They would instead be asked to remain at home and avoid crowds until the results of the tests were known.
Other countries were planning more stringent quarantine measures, with Australia to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan and temporarily house them on an island normally used to detain asylum seekers.
France said it would keep its returnees in a holding facility in Paris for 14 days — the estimated incubation period for the virus.
Meanwhile, the virus continued to spread and kill in China.
The number of confirmed cases across the country climbed to 5,974, while the death toll nationwide jumped 26 to 132.
The scale of the deepening crisis was emphasized with the total number of infections on the Chinese mainland exceeding that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03.
SARS, another respiratory coronavirus, went on to claim nearly 800 lives around the world, with most of those fatalities in mainland China and Hong Kong.
The virus is believed to have originated in a wild-animal market in Wuhan, where it jumped to humans before spreading across the country as the peak travel period for Lunar New Year festivities got under way.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it would send urgently dispatch international experts to China “to guide global response efforts.”
Until Tuesday, all reported cases overseas had involved people who had been in or around Wuhan.
But Japan and Germany then reported the first confirmed human-to-human transmission of the illness outside China. Vietnam is investigating another case.
Germany now has four confirmed cases, all of them employees at a Bavarian firm recently visited by a Chinese colleague, health officials said.
The US asked China on Tuesday to step up its cooperation with international health authorities over the epidemic.
Washington had offered China assistance three times so far without success, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters.
The virus has rattled global markets and started to dent an already-slowing Chinese economy.
Japanese automaker Toyota said Wednesday it would keep its plants in China closed until at least February 9 in part due to government guidelines.
Apple was closely watching the outbreak in China, home to the firm’s third-biggest consumer market and much of its supply chain, chief executive Tim Cook said.
Global coffee chain Starbucks said it expected a significant earnings hit after closing more than half of its stores across China.


Virtual oil summit planned amid ongoing market volatility

Updated 2 min 54 sec ago

Virtual oil summit planned amid ongoing market volatility

  • Meeting follows call from Saudi Arabia for urgent meeting and telephone diplomacy between Kingdom, Russia and the US

DUBAI: Leaders of the global oil industry are planning a crucial “virtual” summit next Monday amid ongoing volatility in crude prices and falling energy demand.

The meeting follows a call from Saudi Arabia on Thursday for an urgent meeting and a round of telephone diplomacy last week involving the Kingdom, Russia and the US, as well as meetings between policymakers and oil industry executives.

The summit is expected to involve the 11 members of OPEC as well as other oil producers from the OPEC+ group.

But exactly which countries will take part in the summit was still up in the air last night. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin was holding talks with executives from the country’s major oil companies before deciding whether or not to participate. The Russian leader has previously indicated his willingness to get involved in talks to help resolve the crisis in the global energy industry, but Russia was also the country that refused to take part in a round of deeper production cuts proposed by Saudi Arabia in Vienna last month, sparking the current price war.

In response to that refusal, the Kingdom increased production and lowered its selling prices. On Sunday, Saudi Aramco, which has pushed output to a record 12.3 million barrels per day, is scheduled to announce its “official selling prices” (OSP) for the month of May, expected to show a continuation of the deep levels of discount to attract customers, especially in Asia, in the battle for global market share. 

Brent crude continued its rollercoaster ride on global markets on Friday, dipping nearly 5 percent before hitting a high of 17.5 percent up at $34.91, before paring gains to about $33.

The options for the producers at Monday’s meeting are limited, in the face of an unprecedented drop in global oil demand. By some estimates, more than 20 million barrels of daily demand was lost last month, the biggest ever contraction in oil history.

Saudi Arabia and Russia, which between them produce around 23 million barrels per day, are unlikely to be willing to take all the pain of bigger cuts without an offer from the Americans.

US President Donald Trump tweeted on Thursday that he expected between 10 million and 15 million barrels of oil to be taken out of supply, but he did not specify where this would come from. Meetings were expected to take place at the White House with oil industry executives and policymakers on Friday.

Daniel Yergin, Pulitzer Prize-winning oil expert, said: “The ‘when,’ ‘how’ and ‘who’ of the potential deal remain unclear. And the larger the universe of players the more difficult it will be to implement an agreement.”

OPEC+ consists of the 11 OPEC members, led by Saudi Arabia, plus 10 non-OPEC producers, of which Russia is by far the biggest.

The involvement of the US in the Monday meeting is also unclear. America is not an OPEC member, but US oil executives have attended OPEC deliberations in the past. American participation in any new rounds of output cuts will be constrained by the fact that the US oil industry is made up of private companies — as opposed to state-directed corporations — whose interests diverge.

While big players including Exxon Mobil and Chevron might be willing to take some advice from the White House, the smaller companies in the Texas shale fields are more focused on the immediate financial repercussions of the past month’s volatility.