With the death toll of Coronavirus now having passed 300, and more than 14,000 infections confirmed, WHO has declared the virus a global health emergency.
With countries including Australia, Japan and the US imposing travel restrictions on those who have recently traveled to the country and over 10,000 flights having been canceled since the outbreak, Ethiopia’s decision to keep operating its flights to and from China, is one that is not sitting well with its citizens.
The Ethiopian government’s assertion that they are prepared to tackle coronavirus as they continue to receive around 1,500 passengers a day into the country from China, is seen as risky as other countries with more robust healthcare infrastructure issue travel restrictions.
In a statement Ethiopian Airlines said it would continue to fly out of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong and protect its crew and passengers.
Ethiopians have turned to social media to express their discontent over the issue, with the announcement of continued flights by Ethiopian Airlines, the national carrier, eliciting sentiments that the country is putting business interests ahead of the welfare of its citizens. “You are putting the lives at 100 million people at risk!”, was a typical response to the airline’s statement.
Air traffic between China and Africa has jumped 630% in the last decade with Ethiopian Airlines now operating almost half of the 2,616 annual flights. Chinese customers comprise the airlines’ largest group of customers. As the new gateway to Africa, having overtaken Dubai last year as the leading transfer hub for long-haul travel to sub-Saharan Africa, Addis’s airport has tripled in size and now accommodates up to 22 million passengers annually.
The expansion at the Bole International Airport, was funded and built by China for $363 million lending credence to the opinions that the Ethiopian governments’ decision to keep flying to and from China, might be a case of diplomatic pandering to China.
But Ethiopian Airlines has also had a tough year after the Mar. 10 Boeing 737 Max crash which claimed the lives of 157 people and is likely to have impacted its financial outlook.
When contacted by phone, a representative at the Addis 24 hour help desk of Ethiopian Airlines said “We have not cancelled any China flights.” Quartz reached out to Ethiopian Airlines corporate communications team for an official update but has not had any response at press time.
And as other national carriers in the region including Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania and Rwandair cancel their China flights, the fact the continent’s second most populated country is adopting what appears to be a lax attitude to the coronavirus, will make some worry it might not take long for the continent to get its first confirmed Coronavirus case.
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