The U.S. government is suspending 26 flights by Chinese airlines from the U.S. to China — most of them out of Los Angeles — in a dispute over COVID-19 controls after Beijing suspended flights by American carriers.
The Department of Transportation on Thursday complained that Beijing violated an air-travel agreement and treated airlines unfairly under a system that requires them to suspend flights if passengers test positive for the coronavirus.
U.S. regulators suspended seven flights by Air China from New York City and a total of 19 flights from Los Angeles by Air China, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines and Xiamen Airlines, according to the Department of Transportation.
It said that was equal to the number of flights that United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines were required to cancel under Beijing’s “circuit-breaker” system.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party’s “zero-COVID” strategy aims to keep the coronavirus out of China even as other governments shift to living with the disease. That has kept case numbers low but disrupted travel, manufacturing and trade. Beijing is easing travel curbs, but most foreign visitors still are barred from China.
Before Aug. 7, if up to nine passengers on a flight tested positive for the coronavirus, a carrier could suspend a flight for two weeks or reduce the passengers it carried to 40% of the possible total, according to the Department of Transportation. It said that since Aug. 7 airlines have been required to suspend a flight if the number of positive tests reaches 4% of passengers on one flight.
The agency complained that airlines face “undue culpability” for passengers who present negative test results before boarding but test positive after arriving in China.
China’s actions are “premised on circumstances wholly outside of the carriers’ control,” the U.S. statement said.
“We reserve the right to take additional action” if Beijing imposes “further circuit-breaker measures,” the statement said.