China is not expected to loosen its current tight restrictions on international flights until after the first half of 2022, its top three airlines have told analysts, reports Bloomberg.
Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines cited the government's COVID-19 prevention approach around the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, Parash Jain, head of shipping, ports and Asian transport research at HSBC, said in a note on Wednesday.
When reopening does occur, it will likely begin with Singapore, South Korea and other places with high vaccination rates, said Jain, citing the airlines.
International flights are currently at only 2% of 2019 levels, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). China’s ‘Five One’ policy essentially limits airlines to just one international flight a week, while passenger capacity is capped at 75%.
The top three Chinese airlines all suffered substantial losses in the first half of 2021, though the figures were an improvement from 2020 due to a recovery in domestic demand. That domestic rebound had stalled in recent months due to local COVID-19 outbreaks, although they now appear to have been brought under control.
The continuation of restrictions in China would push a full recovery in international travel further out to 2024, according to Jain, slower than the United States and Europe.
The move also has broad implications for tourism in the Asia-Pacific region, where Chinese outbound travelers normally play an outsized role; easing of restrictions is unlikely to many countries in the region due to their relatively low vaccination rates and rising COVID-19 cases.
Since March 2020, China’s borders have remained shut to most foreign nationals. Anyone who does enter the country must undergo a mandatory quarantine of up to 21 days.
[Cover image via Flickr]