The Department of Transportation filed a complaint against Beijing on Thursday, alleging that it had broken an air transport agreement and treated airlines unjustly by requiring them to cancel flights if travelers test positive for COVID-19.
The Department of Transportation reports that seven flights by Air China Ltd. from New York City and a total of 19 flights by Air China, China Eastern Airlines Ltd., China Southern Airlines Ltd., and Xiamen Airlines Ltd. from Los Angeles have been suspended by U.S. regulators.
According to the statement, that corresponded to the amount of flights that United Airlines, American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines were required to cancel under Beijing’s “circuit-breaker” system.
The ruling Communist Party’s “zero COVID” strategy aims to keep the virus out of China while other governments are shifting to living with the disease. That has kept case numbers low but disrupted travel, manufacturing and trade. Beijing is easing travel curbs, but most foreign visitors still are barred from China.
Until Aug. 7, if up to nine passengers on a flight tested positive, a carrier could suspend a flight for two weeks or reduce the passengers it carried to 40% of the possible total, according to DoT. It said that since Aug. 7 airlines have been required to suspend a flight if the number of positive tests reaches 4% of passengers on one flight.
The agency complained that airlines face “undue culpability” for passengers who present negative test results before boarding but test positive after arriving in China.
China’s actions are “premised on circumstances wholly outside of the carriers’ control,” the U.S. statement said.
“We reserve the right to take additional action” if Beijing imposes “further circuit-breaker measures,” the statement said.