PAL, Cebu Pacific cut flights to and from China

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By Arjay L. Balinbin, Reporter

PHILIPPINE Airlines (PAL) and Cebu Pacific will be reducing their regular flights to and from China beginning February.

Their announcement came after the Health department confirmed the Philippines’ first case of a new coronavirus strain that killed more than a hundred in China and sickened thousands.

Budget carrier Cebu Pacific, operated by Cebu Air, Inc., will be reducing its regular flights to and from mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong from Feb. 5 to March 29 as it begins contacting passengers who were seated close to the coronavirus-positive Chinese passenger on Jan. 21.

“In light of developments related to the Wuhan Coronavirus, Cebu Pacific will be reducing flights between the Philippines, mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau from February 5 to March 29, 2020,” the budget carrier said in a statement issued late Thursday.

Cebu Pacific currently has 68 weekly flights from the Philippines to five cities in mainland China, namely: Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xiamen and Shenzhen. It also has flights to Hong Kong and Macau, as well as the occasional charter, which has been suspended, from China to Kalibo and Cebu.

Flag carrier PAL, operated by PAL Holdings, Inc., said in a statement on Friday: “Beginning February 1st, 2020, we are reducing our flights between Manila and mainland China by more than 50%.”

PAL noted that there is still a need to maintain “a number of its flights on the various Manila-China routes” to serve the “urgent travel needs” of its passengers, “including many Chinese nationals returning to the mainland following their Lunar New Year holidays, and Filipinos who are returning home from their stays in China.”

The flag carrier added that it will reduce more China flights “in the coming weeks,” depending on its assessment of the situation and “subject to guidelines and instructions” of government authorities.

The company has already suspended its charter flights between Kalibo and Nanjing, Hangzhou and Shanghai in line with the travel restriction being imposed by the government of China.

PAL operates 69 weekly flights to and from China, namely Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macau, Fujian and Xiamen.

In a separate statement issued on Friday, Cebu Pacific said it was working closely with Philippine authorities on necessary measures after they identified one of its passengers on Jan. 21, a 38-year-old female Chinese, as coronavirus-positive.

“We are in the process of contacting passengers seated in the vicinity of the positive NCoV (novel coronavirus) patient and are taking the necessary precautions to inform them so they can have themselves checked in case they show flu-like symptoms,” it said.

Both PAL and Cebu Pacific have advised passengers to postpone their flights if they feel unwell amid the coronavirus outbreak. Passengers with flights to China are also given the option to rebook and refund their tickets until Feb. 29.

The coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China, with the death toll rising to 170, Reuters reported on Thursday.

Some 7,711 people in China were also infected, on top of the 104 confirmed cases in other countries, namely: Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Macau, Australia, Malaysia, United States, France, South Korea, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Canada, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Finland.