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As coronavirus pressure grows, Africa’s biggest airline is starting to cut back its China flights

*Updated with comments from Ethiopian Airlines executive

Globally, coronavirus has claimed 725 lives with almost all deaths occurring in mainland China. The disease has also been detected in 24 other countries, most times involving people who traveled to China. While to date there have been no confirmed cases in Africa, the risk of an outbreak remains high.

Amidst rising criticism of Ethiopian Airlines’ continued flights to and from China, the airline has cut down its February weekly flights from Addis to Beijing, Chengdu, Guanzhou and Shanghai by 33%. It has also changed its aircrafts on the Addis to Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai routes from Boeing 777 and A350 to Boeing 787-8 resulting in a 20%-45% change in capacity on the different flights.

This will be seen as a welcome change given the cancellations of flights to China by other African carriers inclduing

Kenya Airways and Rwandair. Even Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta took the unusual step of urging Ethiopian Airlines to cancel all flights as other airlines stating, “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.”

But this reduction in number of Ethiopian flights and flight capacity might not however be enough to avoid what could be a looming crisis. And many cynics will believe it is more in response to a drop-off in China traffic than safety precautions.

Over the last decade Ethiopian Airlines has become the leading carrier for Africans and others to more destinations on the continent than any other airline. Addis Ababa’s Bole International has also become the primary gateway into Africa because of Ethiopian’s expansion.  The airline has the highest number of flights between China and Africa. Read more...

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