Airlines canceled more than 400 flights to and from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport at their discretion on Thursday, as Chinese authorities moved to partially quarantine the central city of Wuhan amid mounting fears about the spread of a flu-like virus that has claimed 18 lives and sickened 645. China Southern, the country’s largest carrier, axed all inbound flights, Shandong Airlines suspended all of its flights, while China Eastern Airlines and Air China canceled several and adjusted others. Meanwhile, airplanes bound for Tokyo, Paris, Anchorage, Rome, Singapore, Bangkok, and Sihanoukville, Cambodia, departed Thursday morning without incident.
Holding the distinction as central China’s busiest airport, Wuhan International offers scheduled flights to more than 70 domestic points, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. China’s big three airlines—China Southern, China Eastern, and Air China—account for the majority of Wuhan’s outbound/inbound flights, followed by Xiamen Airlines and Hainan Airlines. The airport also offers connections to more than 40 international and regional destinations.
According to Chinese media reports, airport staff have been arranging transportation for inbound and outbound passengers since 10 a.m. local time after officials moved to shut down Wuhan’s land and sea transport. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has urged airlines to reduce and adjust flights to and from Wuhan as public health authorities move to control the spread of the new coronavirus. In response, Chinese low-cost carrier Spring Air moved to cancel all its Osaka-Wuhan flights from January 24 to February 28. Hong Kong’s Cathay Dragon will suspend all inbound/outbound flights to Wuhan from January 24 to February 29 while Ruili Airlines will ax all flights until February 18.
“All airlines [are] to develop flight reduction plans in and out of Wuhan Airport,” the CAAC said in a statement. “In order to ensure the safety of civil aviation employees, [the CAAC] requires all units in the industry to strengthen the personal protection of employees and take protective measures such as wearing masks in crowded situations.”
The same statement saw the CAAC warn airports across the country not to bump prices of “epidemic prevention and control supplies in terminal buildings,” warning that price increases are “strictly forbidden.”
The new coronavirus, first reported in late December 2019, comes as hundreds of millions of Chinese plan to travel over the Lunar New Year, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people. Despite global concerns, the World Health Organization (WHO) has yet to declare a public health emergency.