The Beijing Winter Games open on February 4, and participants are mostly taking special flights restricted to people with OIympics credentials as part of a strict bubble that authorities are implementing around the event.
Since June, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has applied a so-called “circuit-breaker” rule to international flights. That rule means that a flight is automatically suspended for two weeks if five or more passengers test positive upon landing in China. If 10 or more passengers test positive, the suspension period increases.
China has defended its “circuit-breaker” regulations as “an important step to reduce the risk of cross-border spread of the epidemic.”
“The measures, which are open and fair, apply equally to both Chinese and foreign airlines,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in August. “For airlines that do not meet the conditions to trigger the circuit-breaker, China has never applied relevant measures on them.”
From December 24 to January 12, more than a third of the 9,356 international flights scheduled to depart for China — already a fraction of pre-pandemic levels — were canceled, according to data from Umetrip, an app developed by Chinese state-owned aviation industry IT provider TravelSky.
During this period, a growing number of passengers on flights from the United States — operated by both US and Chinese carriers — tested positive upon arrival in China, triggering a wave of cancellations just ahead of the Olympics and the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday in China.
“US airlines are concerned about the implications of a disruption and are continuing to assess the impact to operations,” said Airlines for America, a Washington-based trade group that represents major US carriers, in a statement Thursday. “We are in communication with the US and Chinese governments to identify a path forward that minimizes impact to travelers.”
CNN Business has sought comment from the US Department of Transportation, which has the authority to suspend the eight weekly US flights operated by four Chinese airlines.