Airlines Cancel Flights, Spray Down Cabins As Coronavirus Cases Surpass SARS

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Several major airlines have cancelled or cut service to China as the coronavirus continues to spread and the number of cases surpass that of the SARS outbreak in 2002 to 2003.

The Associated Press reported on Wednesday, that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has hit 5,974 — which 600 more than the number of cases during the SARS outbreak in mainland China. A total of 132 people have died from this year’s outbreak as researchers scramble to understand more about the virus. That number, however, is less than the 348 people who died during the SARS outbreak.

British Airways and Indonesian airline Lion Air announced on Wednesdasy that they are suspending all flights to China, according to Reuters. A day earlier, United Airlines announced it was suspending 24 flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, citing a drop in demand for the routes.

Reuters also reported India’s IndiGo airline has also said it is suspending flights to Chengdu — more than 850 miles west of the city of Wuhan, where the virus began — and Hong Kong.

Many countries have begun to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan.

A U.S. flight left the area and landed in Anchorage for a refueling stop and health screenings before being cleared to continue to California, according to NBC News – all 201 passengers underwent two screenings in China and two more in Alaska. The government has warned U.S. citizens to reconsider or forgo travel to China while the virus is still a threat.

For those commercial flights that are continuing to operate in and out of China, airlines have started to take drastic precautions to prevent the spread of the contagious disease. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is suspending the use of hot towels, blankets and magazines, Reuters reported.

Additionally, Taiwan’s China Airlines and its regional carrier, Mandarin Airlines, stopped serving hot meals, and have also stopped providing blankets, pillows, towels, magazines and newspapers. They have also replaced tablecloths and napkins with paper towels on cross-strait and Hong Kong flights, according to the news service. They have asked passengers to bring their own bottles for drinks and are providing drinks and disposable headphones only upon request.

“The seat back pocket will only contain the aircraft safety card and sick bag,” a Tigerair Taiwan, a member of China Airlines group, told Reuters.

And Thai Airways is taking it a step further by spraying down the entire cabin and cockpit to disinfect it on all flights returning from China and other destinations it considers risky, according to Reuters. In a dramatic video posted to Twitter, crews in hazmat suits walked down the aisles spraying down an empty cabin of a plane.

Singapore Airlines is allowing the use of masks for its crew on flights to and from China and American Airlines is giving flight attendants hand sanitizer wipes, the news service reported.

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