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Global Times

Restrictive measures may be taken for flights from S.Africa amid fears of new strain

Global Times

By Huang Lanlan Source: Global Times Published: 2020/12/25 21:38:40

The Chinese mainland is likely to follow the international trend in suspending flights to and from South Africa, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, predicted Chinese medical and public health experts, who worry that a new variant of the coronavirus being reported there may bring risks and uncertainties to China's generally stable epidemic situation.

Several countries and regions including Germany, the UK, Turkey and China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) have announced to halt air travel from and to South Africa.

It's possible that the Chinese mainland will follow in their steps by taking the recent infection surge in South Africa into account, said Wang Guangfa, a respiratory expert at Peking University First Hospital.

Adopting restrictive measures on inbound flights from countries with "sudden, widespread COVID-19 outbreaks is needed" and "frequent personnel exchanges with China," Wang told the Global Times on Friday.

South Africa is undergoing a huge wave of COVID-19 infections, with a record high of 14,305 new cases being reported on Thursday. The number of local daily confirmed cases basically remained below 3,000 in the previous three months, but has started to climb since December.

The pandemic situation in South Africa hasn't affected its air travel to China yet. The nearest direct flight CA868 will take off on December 30 as scheduled, a service hotline staffer of Air China, which operates the flight, told the Global Times on Friday.

This flight is currently the only inbound flight from South Africa to China each week, departing from Johannesburg for Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, on Wednesdays, the staffer introduced.

The Chinese Embassy in South Africa told the Global Times on Friday that it doesn't encourage Chinese citizens residing there to fly back to China as the local pandemic situation remains serious.

"Although many people plan to return home and reunite with their families as the Chinese New Year approaches, safety is always of paramount concern," it said.

South Africa's latest wave of infections is driven by a new variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on December 17 local time. It remains unclear whether the variant, currently named 501.V2., is associated with another variant firstly found in the UK, which has already spread to some other areas in Europe.

China's aviation authority on Friday issued two-week suspensions to two inbound flights, which respectively flew seven and five passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 to China earlier this month.

It is necessary for China to take restrictive measures on inbound flights facing mounting pressure from imported cases during winter, said Zhou Zijun, a professor at Peking University's School of Public Health.

"If the situation in South Africa gets worse, the Chinese mainland should upgrade its COVID-19 prevention and control measures that may include halting flights" Zhou told the Global Times.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday announced the suspension of flights to and from the UK. As of Friday, at least 40 countries and regions reportedly have issued similar air travel bans to the UK.

Preventing imported cases is a top priority for China's COVID-19 control work at present, Wang said. "Our effort in fighting against the virus will be wasted if imported cases affect the basically steady domestic epidemic situation," he said.

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