El Al Suspends Flights to Beijing Over Coronavirus Outbreak, as Death Toll in China Rises to 170

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Tourists from an Air China flight from Beijing wear protective masks as they arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, January 26, 2020.
Tourists from an Air China flight from Beijing wear protective masks as they arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, France, January 26, 2020.Credit: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

El Al Airlines said Thursday it had suspended flights between Tel Aviv and Beijing until March 25 due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, adding that its flights to Hong Kong would continue to operate.

As of late Wednesday, the death toll from the virus had risen to 170 in China and had infected more than 7,700 people there. Infections from the coronavirus have been reported in at least 15 other countries, with 104 confirmed cases but no deaths.

In suspending service on its Beijing route, El Al is following the lead of other airlines that have suspended or scaled back flights to China, including United Airlines, American Airlines, Air Canada, Cathay Pacific and Lufthansa.   

The virus has reportedly affected areas of China beyond where it originated in the central city of Wuhan.

On Thursday, Israel’s Health Ministry required the hospitalization of a woman who arrived at Sheba Medical Center with symptoms of the virus but refused to be quarantined until several hours of tests had been completed. This was the first time the ministry had used its expanded powers that were granted it with the outbreak of the virus.

Amid concerns over the virus, many Israeli travelers sought to delay or cancel reservations. In response, El Al changed its policy last weekend, allowing fliers not only to change the date on their reservations without a charge but to cancel them altogether. Most travel between Israel and China is for business.

On Thursday, El Al shares closed 2.1% lower at 96 agorot (28 cents) on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

China’s Hainan Airlines has also announced it is suspending most of its international flights, including its Beijing-Tel Aviv route, as of this coming Monday through March 28. But Hainan said it would continue operating its weekly flights between Ben-Gurion International Airport and the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

At the beginning of the week, the Israeli Health Ministry recommended avoiding all “nonessential” travel to China and entirely avoiding the province of Hubei, where Wuhan is located.

The ministry is advising visitors to China who come down with a fever and cough during their travels or within two weeks of their return to seek immediate medical care at a clinic or an emergency room. The directive instructs anyone going to an emergency room to call ahead.

On Wednesday night the ministry said it would “work to reduce the entry of Chinese nationals into Israel” due to the outbreak of the virus. Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov said new guidelines would be issued shortly that completely prohibit travel to Israel from China.

Chinese tourism is a small but rapidly growing segment of the Israel travel industry, with the number of the Chinese tourists visiting Israel soaring 51% to 144,400 last year. Last weekend, China banned its citizens from booking overseas tours and purchasing overseas flights and hotel packages.

With reporting by Reuters.

A test tube with the coronavirus.Credit: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

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