Ethiopian Airlines Reduces China Flights Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

With concerns growing over the spread of the coronavirus to other parts of the world, Ethiopian Airlines is reducing its flights to China. Amidst rising criticism and despite the fact nearly every major world airline has suspended flights to mainland China, Ethiopian Airlines has, so far, continued flying to the virus stricken country from Addis Ababa.

Ethiopian Airlines will replace the B-777 and A350 with the B-787 on routes to China. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

In a move probably more financially based than medically motivated, Africa’s largest airline has decided to cut the capacity of flights to the East Asian country. For February 2020, Ethiopian Airlines has changed the aircraft operating on its Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shanghai flights. Instead of deploying a Boeing 777 and an Airbus A350, the African airline will now use a Boeing 787-8. This will cut capacity by between 20 and 45 percent, depending on the route.

Other African airlines have suspended flights to China

The fact that Ethiopian Airlines refuses to cancel its flights to China despite fellow African airlines Kenya Airways and Rwandair doing so remains alarming. In fact, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta voiced his concern over Ethiopian Airlines’ decision, telling international news outlet Quartz Africa the following:

“Our worry as a country is not that China cannot manage the disease. Our biggest worry is diseases coming into areas with weaker health systems like ours.”

Ethiopian Airlines is the largest airline in Africa. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

Over the past ten years, Ethiopian Airlines has become the primary gateway for people visiting Africa with more connections to the continent than any other airline. And with more flights to China than any other African airline, critics believe that the airline’s decision to not suspend flights is because the Ethiopian government does not want to upset China.

Ethiopian Airlines has no intention of suspending flights to China

When speaking to reporters on Saturday, again covered by Quartz Africa, top Ethiopian Airlines executive Tewolde Gebremariam let it be known the country’s national flag carrier had no intentions of canceling flights to China, saying:

“It will not be morally acceptable to stop flying to China today because they have a temporary problem…We stand with our Chinese brothers and sisters.”

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Africa, yet the risk of an outbreak remains high for a continent that is ill-prepared for such an emergency. As of today, Sunday 9 February, another 89 people died from the coronavirus on Saturday, taking the official death toll to 813.

At the same time, the number of confirmed cases has risen to 27,100 in the Wuhan epicenter area, while in other parts of China and around the world the number of confirmed cases is now greater than 37,000.

While not looking to incite panic or stoke fears, experts around the world say that the real number of people infected with coronavirus could be ten times more than the official Chinese figure.

The coronavirus has a 14 day incubation period

By continuing to fly from Addis Ababa to China, Ethiopian Airlines is opening up the African continent to the risk of more infections. Yes, health screening is being done at the airport, but with as long as a 14 day incubation period, it is risky knowing that many travelers show little or no symptoms.

Ethiopian Airlines Reduces China Flights Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Ethiopian Airlines will continue flying to China despite the risk of coronavirus. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

It would appear, for now at least, that Ethiopian Airlines has no intention of suspending flights. One way this could change is if other counties refuse to accept Ethiopian flights landing due to the coronavirus risk.

What do you think of Ethiopian Airlines’ stance on China flights and the coronavirus? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section.