BEIJING (Reuters) – China will allow 408 scheduled international passenger flights to and from the country per week in the winter season ending in March next year, down from 644 in the summer season, China’s aviation regulator said on Friday.
That is down 21.1% from a year ago when international travel remained heavily depressed due to the surging COVID-19 pandemic.
The announcement will likely douse hopes for any immediate reopening of Chinese borders as more and more countries reopen their economies. China has so far adopted a zero-COVID approach towards sporadic domestic outbreaks, which has far-reaching implications for the Chinese economy.
“The shift of season for international passenger flights will continue to be in line with the relevant requirements from epidemic prevention and control policy and transportation support,” said the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) in a statement on its website.
It added that scheduled international flights, which could be reduced by later cancellations, for the new season would be 2.2% of pre-COVID levels.
The CAAC said in August that weekly international flights were about 2% of 2019 levels, as more flights were suspended amid a rising number of imported COVID-19 cases.
The total number of international flights, mostly cargo flights, stood at 6,172 per week, CAAC said on Friday.
The CAAC slashed international flights in March 2020 to allay concerns over rising coronavirus infections. A so-called “Five One” policy allows mainland carriers to fly just one flight a week on one route to any country and foreign airlines to operate just one flight a week to China.
The CAAC has tweaked the policy with flight suspensions or capacity caps for airlines if a certain number of passengers are found to have been infected with COVID-19, or adding flights if an airline does not import any cases.
Air China in September told analysts it expects the CAAC to keep curbs on international passenger flights throughout the first half of 2022.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing and Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by David Holmes)