Covid-19 around the world: more than 4,500 flights canceled over Christmas weekend, China on alert


More than 4,500 flights were canceled by airlines, while thousands more were delayed around the world over Christmas weekend, faced with the Omicron variant which disrupts travel during the holidays. China recorded its highest level of contamination cases on Saturday, December 25.

The pandemic has killed more than 5.3 million people worldwide since the end of 2019, according to a report established by Agence France-Presse from official sources on Friday at midday. The United States is, according to these sources, the most bereaved country with nearly 816,000 officially recorded deaths, ahead of Brazil (618,000), India (478,000) and Russia (302,000). The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, taking into account the excess mortality directly and indirectly linked to Covid-19, that the toll of the pandemic in the world could be two to three times higher, or 10 to 15 million dead.

Read our explanations: Article reserved for our subscribers What we know at this stage about the Omicron variant
  • Cascade flight cancellations

According to the Flightaware website, there were at least 2,000 flight cancellations on Saturday morning, 700 of which were trips linked to the United States, whether international or internal, and more than 1,500 delays. Friday, about 2,400 cancellations and nearly 11,000 delays were identified according to the same source which already has more than 600 cancellations scheduled for Sunday.

Pilots, flight attendants and other staff members had to be quarantined after being exposed to Covid-19, which forced Lufthansa, Delta and United Airlines to cancel flights. According to Flightaware, United Airlines had to cancel around 200 flights on Friday and Saturday, or 10% of those that were scheduled. « The peak of Omicron cases across the country this week has had a direct impact on our crews and the people who run our operations. », explained the American company, which assured to strive to find solutions for the affected passengers.

Delta Air Lines also canceled 260 flights on Saturday, and 170 the day before, again according to Flightaware, citing both Omicron and, occasionally, adverse weather conditions. « The Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources » before coming to these cancellations, argues the airline. More than ten Alaska Airlines flights, which employees said « Have been potentially exposed to the virus » and had to self-isolate in quarantine, were also canceled.

Read also Covid-19: Despite the spread of the Omicron variant, Americans determined to travel for the holidays

Chinese airlines were responsible for the most cancellations: China Eastern cut around 480 flights, or more than 20% of its flight plan, while Air China canceled 15% of its scheduled departures.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers In Europe, the new Omicron variant darkens the economic horizon
  • China records highest number of contamination cases for four months

China reported 140 new cases of Covid-19 on Saturday, the highest figure in four months, as authorities rush to contain the epidemic in several regions. Of the 140 new infections, 87 were transmitted locally, according to a statement from the National Health Commission, up from 55 a day earlier. Most of the contamination has occurred in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, where thirteen million residents have been confined since Thursday.

CCTV public broadcaster footage on Saturday showed long lines outside testing centers in Xi’an, as authorities rushed to stem the latest outbreak. Under strict containment rules, as of Thursday, households in Xi’an are no longer allowed to send one member outside every two days to buy basic necessities. Residents must obtain special permission from their employer or local authorities to leave the city.

Xi’an has recorded 330 symptomatic locally transmitted cases since the first case was reported on December 9, 2021, which is few compared to outbreaks elsewhere in the world. But some 26 Xi’an government officials have been sanctioned for failing to prevent the virus, the Chinese disciplinary body said on Friday.

Read also Covid-19: Xi’an, a city of 13 million inhabitants in China, confines itself after a hundred cases

China is on high alert as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics in February in the capital Beijing. While the country has reduced the number of cases to a minimum thanks to a « zero Covid » strategy that includes border restrictions, long quarantines and targeted lockdowns, cases have multiplied in recent weeks. Xi’an’s cases have so far spread to five other cities, including Beijing, state media said, fueling fears about how quickly the virus is spreading in the country. China has reported 100,871 symptomatic cases and fewer than 5,000 deaths since the virus first appeared in Wuhan city in late 2019.

The World with AFP

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