China to loosen flight restrictions after outcry from stranded citizens
BEIJING, China – China will loosen a cap on flights into the country that was imposed to block coronavirus infections from abroad, authorities said on Wednesday, May 27, after fierce criticism from citizens stranded abroad.
Authorities currently allow domestic and foreign airlines to maintain only one weekly route either to or from China.
But from June, the number of permitted flights will nearly triple to 407 per week, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) Deputy Administrator Li Jian said in an interview with state media.
That is still just a fraction of the roughly 9,000 flights a week handled by the country's airports before the pandemic.
The move comes after thousands of frustrated social media users vented their anger on the CAAC's official Weibo page, often with expletive-laden comments about the high price of tickets on the limited number of flights.
Some said they had been asked by airlines to pay as much as 30,000 yuan ($4,200) for the few seats available.
"Do you think we're all money-printing machines?" one user wrote.
Many of the Chinese nationals waiting to return home are among China's population of 1.6 million students studying abroad.
Beijing arranged emergency flights to repatriate its citizens stranded abroad as the virus spread around the world, but demand has far outstripped supply.
Dozens of people were arrested in Nepal earlier this month after a protest in Kathmandu by stranded Chinese nationals turned violent.
The demonstrators held placards with messages such as "I want to go home!" and threw stones at police, local authorities said.
Beijing has also made tentative steps toward easing its ban on foreigners, negotiating special arrangements with some countries in Asia and Europe to allow essential workers to travel to China.
Friday, May 29, will see the first mass trip by Europeans to the country in months.
Some 200 people will fly from Frankfurt to the eastern city of Tianjin on Friday, German Chamber of Commerce in North China executive director Jens Hildebrandt told Agence France-Presse.
A second flight from Frankfurt to Shanghai is scheduled for June 3.
All international arrivals in China are currently required to undergo a COVID-19 test and complete a mandatory quarantine. – Rappler.com