China’s embassy in Ukraine has announced the organisation of charter flights to evacuate those Chinese nationals who wish to leave the country under attack from Russia, even as Beijing says it understands Moscow’s “reasonable” security concerns.
Beijing launched a process to collect the information of those wanting to leave, saying that the registration window would close on Sunday. No timetable was given for when the flights would begin.
China has said about 6,000 of its citizens are in Ukraine.
“At present, the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated rapidly, and our citizens and Chinese enterprises in Ukraine face high risk to their security,” the embassy said in a statement.
“We have started registration to prepare for transfer arrangements by chartered flights… The flight time will be confirmed according to the safety situation of the flights, and will be notified in advance.”
Russian forces have launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, unleashing airstrikes and sending its troops deep into the country, after weeks of diplomatic efforts failed to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from launching the military operation.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that Beijing “has always respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries” but understood “Russia’s reasonable concerns on security issues”.
Two months before it is due to open with just a handful of confirmed flights, workers are racing to finish a new international airport for Mexico City — one of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s flagship projects.
With two commercial runways built on a military air base outside the capital, Felipe Angeles International Airport is meant to take the pressure off the city’s Benito Juarez airport.
The existing hub, which handled 36 million passengers in 2021, is one of the busiest in Latin America.
Its location in eastern Mexico City is far more convenient for many residents of the capital than Felipe Angeles, which is located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the capital’s historic district.
But Benito Juarez airport is showing its age and handled a record 50.3 million passengers in 2019 before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Felipe Angeles airport, named after a general in the Mexican revolution, has been engulfed in controversy from the start.
After taking office in 2018, Lopez Obrador canceled another airport project launched by the previous government and already one-third complete.
He called the $13 billion project a “bottomless pit” rife with corruption and decided instead to turn the Santa Lucia military air base into a second airport for the sprawling Mexican capital.
Lopez Obrador commissioned the military — which is also involved in other pet projects of his government, such as a tourist train in the Yucatan Peninsula — to oversee construction of the new airport at a cost of around $3.6 billion.
On a recent visit to the Santa Lucia airport, construction workers were seen putting the finishing touches to the inside of the new terminal building, while cleaners swept floors and cleaned windows.
The gleaming toilets are decorated with images of traditional mariachi music and wrestling.
In other areas, notably the access roads that will link the terminal building to the highway, dozens of laborers worked with trucks and machinery to complete the project in time.
A planned rail link to connect the airport with the capital’s suburban train network is not scheduled to be completed until the second half of 2023.
– ‘Giving it a chance’ –
Around 87 percent of the airport construction has been finished with two months left before the March 21 opening, said Captain Diego Diaz Avila of the military’s engineer corps.
In its first phase of operation, the new airport will be able to handle 19.5 million passengers a year, he told AFP.
But so far, only low-cost Mexican airlines Volaris and Viva Aerobus have announced plans to operate a small number of flights at the new airport, with most staying at Benito Juarez.
Aeromexico, the country’s largest carrier, has declined to use the new airport in the initial phase.
The airlines are not ready to shift significant operations to the new terminal, said Brian Rodriguez, an aviation analyst at the financial firm Monex.
“They’re giving it a chance to operate there to see the costs, demand and how profitable it can be,” he said.
Given that Felipe Angeles is located outside the city, the airlines that do use the new airport will seek to attract the several million people living in the surrounding area, added Rodriguez.
AFP contacted the main international airlines that operate in Mexico — British Airways, Air France, Iberia, Lufthansa and American Airlines — to ask if they plan to use the new terminal.
Only American Airlines responded, saying there were no changes to 13 daily flights between Mexico City and the United States.
More than 6,000 flights have been canceled worldwide over the long Christmas weekend and thousands more were delayed, a tracking website reported Sunday, as the highly infectious Omicron variant brings holiday hurt to millions.
Compounding the travel chaos in the United States, severe weather in the country’s west is due to wreak havoc on roadways and other routes there although it may well bring a white Christmas weekend to northwest cities Seattle and Portland.
According to Flightaware.com, more than 2,800 flights were scrubbed around the globe on Saturday, including more than 990 originating from or headed to US airports, with over 8,500 delays as of 0500 GMT.
On Friday, there were around 2,400 cancellations and 11,000 delays, while Sunday cancellations were at nearly 1,500 with more than 1,400 delays also reported.
Pilots, flight attendants and other employees have been calling in sick or having to quarantine after exposure to Covid, forcing Lufthansa, Delta, United Airlines, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines and many other short-staffed carriers to cancel flights during one of the year’s peak travel periods.
“Help @united flight cancelled again. I want to get home for Christmas,” one exasperated traveler from the US state of Vermont tweeted to the airline early Saturday.
Flightaware data showed United cancelled around 200 flights on Friday and nearly 250 Saturday — about 10 percent of those that were scheduled.
A scramble to reroute pilots and planes and reassign employees was underway, but Omicron’s surge has upended business.
“The nationwide spike in Omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United said in a statement Friday.
“As a result, we’ve unfortunately had to cancel some flights and are notifying impacted customers in advance of them coming to the airport,” the airline said.
Similarly, Delta scrapped 310 flights Saturday and was already canceling over 100 more Sunday, saying it has “exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying.”
“We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans,” the company said.
The cancellations added to the pandemic frustration for many people eager to reunite with their families over the holidays, after last year’s Christmas was severely curtailed.
Chinese airlines accounted for the highest number of cancellations, with China Eastern scrapping more than 1,000 flights, over 20 percent of its flight plan, on Friday and Saturday and Air China also grounding about 20 percent of its scheduled departures over the period.
‘Treacherous’ Snow Conditions
According to estimates from the American Automobile Association, more than 109 million Americans were scheduled to travel by plane, train or automobile between December 23 and January 2, a 34 percent increase over the last year.
But most of those plans were made before the outbreak of Omicron, which has become the dominant strain in the United States, overwhelming some hospitals and healthcare workers.
The state of New York announced Friday that it recorded 44,431 new daily positive Covid tests, a record, while new cases surged nationwide as well.
On the weather front, while unseasonably warm temperatures were bathing eastern states, the National Weather Service announced winter storm warnings including a deep freeze for significant parts of the west.
“Anomalously cold conditions and a barrage of Pacific moisture results in prolonged periods of mountain snow and coastal/valley rain, some of which may fall heavy at times,” the NWS said in an advisory.
An eye-popping two to four feet (61 to 122 centimeters) of snow was forecast to fall this weekend, with higher accumulation in some spots, in the northern and central Sierra mountains of California and Oregon.
Travel will be “treacherous to at times impossible” from the Sierras to the central Rocky Mountains at the weekend due to whiteout snow conditions, the NWS added.
France said Wednesday it would allow in flights from ten southern African countries from Saturday, but with “drastic” restrictions permitting only French and EU residents to disembark, along with diplomats and flight crews.
These travellers must have a Covid test upon arrival, with a negative result still requiring a seven-day quarantine, while a positive test will prompt a 10-day quarantine, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said after a cabinet meeting.
France is one of several countries worldwide that halted flights from southern Africa in recent days after the more contagious Omicron strain of coronavirus was reported by South Africa.
But the World Health Organization warned Tuesday that “blanket” travel bans risked doing more harm than good, by potentially dissuading countries from sharing data about the evolving virus.
Attal said French authorities had discovered 13 suspected Omicron cases so far that were under analysis for confirmation.
“Let’s not be fooled or naive, there will very probably be cases on our territory in the coming hours or days,” he said.
Attal also announced that all travellers arriving from outside the European Union would have to present a negative Covid test less than 48 hours old, in a bid to halt the spread of the more contagious Omicron variant.
In addition, non-vaccinated travellers from within the EU will have to show a negative test less than 24 hours old.
European countries banned flights from the UK on Sunday and the WHO called for stronger containment measures as the British government warned that a potent new strain of the virus was “out of control”.
As the World Health Organization urged its European members to strengthen measures against a new variant of Covid-19 circulating in Britain, the Netherlands imposed a ban on UK flights from 6:00 am (0500 GMT) on Sunday and Belgium said it would follow suit from midnight with ban on planes and trains from the UK.
Alarm bells were ringing across Europe — which last week became the first region in the world to pass 500,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the pandemic broke out a year ago — after it appeared that a new, even more infectious strain of the virus was raging in parts of Britain.
Germany, too, was considering a similar move as “a serious option” for flights from both Britain and South Africa, where another variant was discovered, according to a government source.
Italy will join the ban in order to protect its citizens, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio wrote on Facebook, without specifying when the measures would come into force.
Austria’s health ministry told the APA news agency that it would also impose a flight ban, the details of which were still being worked out.
A spokeswoman for WHO Europe told AFP that “across Europe, where transmission is intense and widespread, countries need to redouble their control and prevention approaches.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel held a conference call on Sunday about the matter, according to the Elysee palace in Paris.
– Alarm bells –
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the infectiousness of the new strain had forced his hand into imposing a lockdown across much of England over the Christmas period.
“Unfortunately the new strain was out of control. We have got to get it under control,” UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News after Johnson U-turned on his previously stated policy of easing containment measures over the festive season.
Scientists first discovered the new variant — which they believe is 70 percent more transmissible — in a patient in September. And Public Health England notified the government on Friday when modelling revealed the full seriousness of the new strain.
But Britain’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty pointed out that while the new strain was greatly more infectious, “there is no current evidence to suggest (it) causes a higher mortality rate or that it affects vaccines and treatments, although urgent work is underway to confirm this.”
The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,685,785 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Sunday.
And with the onset of colder winter weather in the northern hemisphere where respiratory diseases flourish, countries are bracing for new waves of Covid-19 with tighter restrictions, despite the economic damage such lockdowns wrought earlier this year.
The Netherlands is under a five-week lockdown until mid-January with schools and all non-essential shops closed to slow a surge in the virus.
Italy also announced a new regime of restrictions until January 6 that included limits on people leaving their homes more than once a day, closing non-essential shops, bars and restaurants and curbs on regional travel.
In Russia, health authorities said that the number of people who have died from the coronavirus has surpassed the 50,000 mark and now stands at 50,858.
– Vaccination rollout –
The rapid rollout of vaccinations is now seen as the only effective way to end the crisis and the economically devastating shutdowns used to halt its spread.
Europe is expected to start a massive vaccination campaign after Christmas following the United States and Britain, which have begun giving jabs with an approved Pfizer-BioNTech shot, one of several leading candidates.
Russia and China have also started giving out jabs with their own domestically produced vaccines.
The United States on Friday authorised Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, paving the way for millions of doses of a second jab to be shipped across the hardest-hit country in the world.
It is the first nation to authorise the two-dose regimen from Moderna, now the second vaccine to be deployed in a Western country after the one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
The Wall Street Journal reported that US lawmakers had agreed on pandemic spending powers for the Federal Reserve late Saturday, clearing the way for a vote on a roughly $900-billion Covid-19 relief package for millions of Americans.
The deal would maintain the central bank’s ability to set up emergency lending programmes without congressional approval, the Journal said, but the Fed would require approval to restart existing CARES Act programmes once they expire at the end of this year.
Saudi Arabia has agreed to allow UAE flights to “all countries” to overfly the kingdom, state media reported Wednesday, days after allowing an Israeli aircraft to pass over en route to Abu Dhabi.
Saudi Arabia has accepted an Emirati request to allow “crossing the kingdom’s airspace for flights heading to the UAE and departing from it to all countries”, the official Saudi Press Agency said, citing a source from the civil aviation authority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile announced that Monday’s historic first commercial flight of an Israeli aircraft direct to the United Arab Emirates across Saudi Arabia would not be the last.
“Israeli planes and those from all countries will be able to fly directly from Israel to Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and back,” Netanyahu said, without giving any timeline.
The announcements come after a US-Israeli delegation visited Abu Dhabi on Monday, on the first direct commercial flight from Tel Aviv to mark the normalisation of ties between the Jewish state and the UAE.
Saudi Arabia has said it will not follow the United Arab Emirates in establishing diplomatic ties with Israel until the Jewish state has signed an internationally recognised peace accord with the Palestinians.
But the kingdom has cultivated clandestine relations with Israel in recent years, in a shift spearheaded by de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In a sign of its cooperation with Israel, Saudi Arabia allowed Monday’s historic flight to cross its airspace, halving what would otherwise have been a long detour around the Arabian peninsula.
However, Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy and home to Islam’s holiest sites, faces more sensitive political calculations than the UAE.
Not only would a formal recognition of Israel be seen by Palestinians and their supporters as a betrayal of their cause, it would also hurt the kingdom’s image as the leader of the Islamic world.
In 2002, Saudi Arabia sponsored the Arab Peace Initiative which called for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied in the Six-Day War of 1967 and an equitable solution for Palestinian refugees, in exchange for peace and the full normalisation of relations.
But a shared animosity towards Iran, along with Saudi attempts to attract foreign investment to fund Prince Mohammed’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, appear to be pushing the kingdom closer to Israel than ever.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Israel is working on opening a corridor over Saudi Arabia for flights to the UAE, following last week’s historic deal to normalise ties.
“We are working with maximum energy, and we have already begun to work on opening an air route over Saudi Arabia, which will simply shorten flights between Israel and the UAE,” he said during a visit to Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.
“I estimate that we will reach an agreement that will genuinely allow direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dubai,” he said. “It is a major revolution.”
In March 2018, Air India launched the first scheduled service to Israel allowed to cross Saudi airspace.
It was seen at the time as a sign of a behind-the-scenes improvement in ties between the Arab kingdom and the Jewish state.
During a May 2017 Middle East tour, US President Donald Trump flew from Riyadh to Tel Aviv on Air Force One, in a first known direct flights from Saudi Arabia to Israel.
A surprise announcement from Trump last Thursday revealed that the United Arab Emirates and Israel have decided to normalise relations.
It is only the third such accord Israel has struck with an Arab country, and raises the prospect of similar deals with other pro-Western Gulf states.
Regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia has been conspicuously silent on the deal, with no official reaction emerging from Riyadh.
Netanyahu said the deal would not only change Israel’s aviation options, but also its maritime trade.
“Dubai has the largest free trade zones in the world,” he said.
“Now these goods will — under the peace agreement –- reach the State of Israel and lower the prices of products.”
In a letter to UAE leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin welcomed the deal.
“In these fateful days, leadership is measured by its courage and ability to be groundbreaking and far-sighted,” he wrote in Arabic.
“I make no secret of my hope that this move will also serve as a beacon, illuminating the road ahead for others,” he wrote, extending an invitation to Sheikh Mohamed to visit Israel.
Flight operations have resumed at the Kaduna International Airport on Tuesday, July 21, 2020, amidst strict safety protocols.
The resumption of flight operations at the airport also recorded an impressive turnout of passengers.
The flight restart was kicked off with the arrival of Azman Air from Lagos to Kaduna at about 7:30 am, more than three months after the country’s air space was shut down for scheduled passenger service due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
At the airport’s departure hall, passengers were required to wear face masks, observe social distance and use hand sanitizers as thermometers were also used to check their body temperature.
Some of the passengers expressed satisfaction with the level of compliance in response to tackling COVID-19 and hoped the compliance will be sustained.
Following the approval for resumption of flight operations, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) released new guidelines for air travellers and other airport users.
The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) according to the Manager of the Kaduna Airport and the Director of Aviation Security Services of FAAN, is aimed at protecting all passengers, staff and preventing further spread of disease.
The new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) at the airports entails that air passengers must ensure a minimum of one-point-five metres (1.5m) physical distancing, aviation medical/port health personnel will screen each passenger and ensure the use of face masks.
They are also required to wash their hands as often as possible, while all luggage must be disinfected before entry into the departure halls.
Ivory Coast said Thursday it would resume international flights from July 1 after almost three months of being grounded due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Domestic flights will resume on June 26, while land and sea borders will remain closed until at least July 15, Health Minister Eugene Aka Aoule said at a press briefing following a national security council meeting.
A state of emergency will stay in place and the greater Abidjan region, home to over five million people — a fifth of the population of the world’s top cocoa grower — will continue to remain isolated from the rest of the country, he said.
The region, which includes the country’s economic capital, accounts for nearly all of the more than 8,000 recorded coronavirus cases, including 58 deaths, the minister said.
Travellers arriving in the West African country will be subject to “control on arrival and monitoring during their stay thanks to a geolocation system,” he added.
Ivory Coast is one of the first African countries to announce the resumption of its international flights.
Zambia said on Thursday that it would immediately reopen all three of the landlocked country’s international airports to help revitalise the tourism sector hit hard by the pandemic.
Liberia is due to reopen its Monrovia International Airport on Sunday.
Ivory Coast began to ease its measures against coronavirus last month, lifting a curfew and allowing for the gradual resumption of classes and the reopening of shops and restaurants, while entertainment venues and nightclubs would remain shut.
Beijing cancelled at least 1,255 inbound and outbound flights on Wednesday, representing nearly 70 per cent of all services, the state-run People’s Daily reported, as fears grow over a new coronavirus outbreak.
City officials have urged residents not to leave the city, and several provinces have quarantined travellers from Beijing after more than 130 new cases were confirmed in the capital in recent days.
Cyprus welcomed its first tourists after nearly three months of coronavirus lockdown on Tuesday with flights scheduled from Israel, Greece and Bulgaria.
Cyprus is marketing itself as a relatively safe holiday destination in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, with a transmission rate below one and a very low mortality rate.
The Mediterranean island’s main airport at Larnaca reopened to passengers for the first time since a ban on commercial flights was imposed on 21 March.
“After two and a half months, the connectivity of our island with 19 other countries returns. Cypriot airports open with optimism with the first flight arriving at Larnaca from Israel,” Transport Minister Yiannis Karousos tweeted.
According to the airport’s operator Hermes, five arrivals and five departures were scheduled from Larnaca on Tuesday. The first departure was an Aegean airline flight which left at 8 am for Athens. The first arrival was an Israir Airlines plane from Tel Aviv at 10:30 am.
Paphos airport in the west of the island will welcome its first flights on June 21.
Karousos was at Larnaca to welcome the first visitors Cyprus has seen since early March.
Normally at this time of year, the island fills with north European tourists drawn by its pristine Mediterranean beaches.
Cyprus came out top in a survey of European beaches published by the European Environment Agency on Monday with 99.1 percent of its beaches boasting excellent water quality.
– Britons, Russians kept away –
Under its exit lockdown road map, Cyprus is initially opening its airports to a select band of 19 countries that are considered low risk.
They include Israel, Greece, Germany, Austria and Malta but the island’s two biggest markets Britain and Russia are not on the approved list.
Sweden, France, Belgium and the Netherlands are also not listed.
All those arriving between June 9 and June 19 will need to provide a health certificate proving they are coronavirus negative.
From June 20, there will be no need to provide a health certificate from 13 of the 19 countries and another six countries will be added to the list including Switzerland, Romania and Poland.
Cyprus says it will update the list of approved countries on a weekly basis based on the scientific data.
There will also be temperature checks and random testing of travellers, free of charge, when they arrive on the island.
To attract tourists to the island, the government has pledged to cover the medical costs of any visitor who tests positive for the coronavirus while enjoying a holiday on the Mediterranean island.
Authorities estimate that tourist arrivals this year, which had been projected at nearly 4 million before the coronavirus, will fall by as much as 70 percent, dealing a heavy blow to the sector which generates around 15 per cent of the island’s GDP.
Revenue from tourism generated 2.68 bn euros in 2019, down 1 per cent from the previous year, bolstered by record arrivals of 3.97 million.
Cyprus says it has one of the lowest ratios of coronavirus cases per capita in Europe having tested around 12 per cent of its population.
The Republic of Cyprus has a total of 970 coronavirus cases and only 18 deaths.