Amid Virus Outbreak, China Suddenly Cancels Flights and Train Schedules in Major Cities

By Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao
Nicole Hao is a Washington-based reporter focused on China-related topics. Before joining the Epoch Media Group in July 2009, she worked as a global product manager for a railway business in Paris, France.
March 8, 2020Updated: March 8, 2020

Two major cities in Guangdong province recently cancelled most of their flights to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, drawing public speculation that the changes were precautions related to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

A large number of passenger train routes in major cities across the country were also cancelled.

Airlines stated “public security issues,” but didn’t give details. State-run media quoted Air China staff who said: “could be related to coronavirus outbreak.”

In recent days, local media reported several cases of novel coronavirus patients who died in Guangdong province shortly after being confirmed with the virus.

According to flight-tracking websites, almost all flights from Shenzhen and Guangzhou to Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou were cancelled after 5:15 p.m. local time on March 5. Some of the flights to Tianjin, Nanjing, Shenyang, and other top Chinese cities were cancelled as well. On March 6, flights resumed but were delayed.

On a popular Chinese railway ticketing website, all passenger trains departing from Hangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing city, Chengdu in Sichuan province, Zhongshan in Guangdong province, and many other major Chinese cities also stopped operations on March 6.

Railway stations in Guiyang city of Guizhou province announced that the cancellations were due to “force majeure,” with no other details.

On March 5, the newspaper owned by the Hangzhou city government, Metro Express, said it received readers’ phone calls complaining that their flights from Shenzhen to Hangzhou were cancelled. Hangzhou is the capital of eastern China’s Zhejiang province, and is about 655 miles north of Shenzhen.

The Metro Express then found out that the flights to Shenzhen were cancelled.

The publication contacted the state-run airline Air China and was told that the flights were cancelled due to “public security issues.”

“Public security issues are relatively rare in daily civil aviation operations [in China],” the Metro Express reported. “When there are large-scale events or emergencies that might impact the safety of flights, airlines will cancel flights under the rationale of ‘public security issues,’” it explained.

The newspaper then spoke with a staff member at Air China, who said, “the flight’ cancellations could be related to the coronavirus.”

The Metro Express soon deleted its report. Other Chinese media outlets also deleted their reposts of the original Metro Express article.

U.S.-based China affairs commentator Tang Jingyuan said such large-scale cancellations are rare and could hint at a true emergency.

“Beijing authorities are trying to convince citizens that the coronavirus outbreak has calmed down and people can go back to work. Cancelling air flights can create a sense of panic. The government won’t take this sort of action unless something extremely urgent is happening,” Tang said in an interview.

The Chinese regime has requested all businesses to resume production on Feb. 10, following an extended Lunar New Year holiday to prevent people from gathering and potentially spreading the virus. With increasing pressure from authorities, more businesses have resumed operations, though that has risked workers becoming infected.

In Guangdong province, several such cases were reported.

On March 4, a worker suddenly fell down while at a workshop in Shenzhen. Her co-workers shot a video of what happened. Some coronavirus patients have suddenly collapsed, and later died.

On March 3, a bus was arranged to pick up migrant workers in Hunan province and return them to their hometown of Shantou city in Guangdong. When the bus arrived at its destination, it was discovered that a worker had died on the bus. Those sitting beside the deceased worker said the latter had a fever

Meanwhile, a growing number of netizens from different provinces shared social media videos explaining that their cities have begun a second round of quarantine measures, with more strict rules.

Since late January, Chinese cities have initiated lockdowns after the initial outbreak in Wuhan city, Hubei province became severe. Currently, in Hubei, most residents have restrictions on when they can leave their homes.