The countries of the Caspian region are stepping up efforts to contain a deadly virus originating in China, with airports and airlines temporarily canceling flights to and from some of the largest Chinese cities.
Russia’s Ural Airlines announced Monday that it would suspend flights from Yekaterinburg and Tyumen to China's Hainan Province until the situation stabilizes. The company has also offered customers refunds for bookings on flights to and from Wuhan before February 7.
At the same time, the country’s largest air carrier, Aeroflot offered its customers refunds and said it may also assist passengers with rebookings.
“Due to the epidemiological situation in China, Aeroflot decided to provide passengers with the opportunity to rebook or return purchased tickets to all Aeroflot flights to and from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Harbin, as well as code sharing flights [operated] with Aeroflot’s Chinese partners China Eastern and China Southern, including to and from Sanya, Dalian, and Wuhan,” reads the statement published to the company’s website last Friday.
Russia’s largest air charters also announced this week they would suspend their flights to China. The list of the companies includes Azur Air operated by ANEX Tour, iFly operated by TEZ Tour, as well as Nordwind.
‘‘We are taking Chinese passengers out of Russia, while return flights to Moscow are operated without passengers,’’ Interfax cited the Nordwind’s representative as saying.
The country’s federal tourism agency — also known as Rosturizm have already recommended Russian tourists not travel to China until the epidemiological situation stabilizes. The agency also ordered Russia’s tour operators and travel agencies to stop selling package trips to Chinese cities.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan’s flag carrier Air Astana didn’t suspend its flights to China, but offered customers refunds or assistance with rebookings. At the same time, the Chinese government has canceled all package trips to Kazakhstan from Urumqi and Beijing, according to the company.
‘‘Given the passenger concerns, Air Astana carries out rebooking, re-routing or a full refund of airline tickets without penalty,’’ Sputnik Kazakhstan quoted the company’s statement as saying.
SCAT — also Kazakhstan’s airline — has suspended its flights to the Chinese cities of Sanya and Haikou. Kazakhstan travel agencies confirmed that flights from Almaty and Nur-Sultan to Hainan were canceled, while Kazakhstanis will be taken out of the island as soon as possible.
The country’s largest airports have been taking precautionary measures, including screening international passengers with thermal scanners.
“As of today, 19,609 passengers from China have been screened at checkpoints across the state border,’’ Kazakhstan’s health ministry said Monday, adding that there had been no cases reported.
Kazakhstan President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev ordered to prevent civil servants from leaving to China, suspend the 72-hour visa-free regime for transit passengers from China, as well as to temporarily close the Kazakh part of the Khorgos special trade zone located on the border with China.
Azerbaijan Airlines, or AZAL has also announced it would suspend its non-stop flights to Beijing starting from February. At the same time, the company’s officials claim it is not related to the current virus outbreak.
“As in previous years, flights to Beijing will traditionally be suspended. This is explained by low demand [for flights] due to holidays in this country,” said Pasha Kesamanski, head of the press service of AZAL, according to a report by Interfax Azerbaijan.
“AZAL will resume flights on the Baku-Beijing-Baku route from March 8,” he added.
Airlines in Iran and Turkmenistan have not yet canceled their flights to China, but the countries’ main airports have been screening passengers with thermal scanners.
The announcements of the air carriers followed a decision by the Chinese government to limit travel from Wuhan, putting into lockdown the city of 11 million people. The mysterious deadly coronavirus has already infected over 4,100 people in China, and left 106 dead.
First emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December, the new virus has already spread beyond China, including to Japan, Thailand, South Korea, and the United States. Some 44 cases have been confirmed abroad, including in Germany, the United States, and Australia, while there have been no deaths outside China.