Coronavirus: Is it safe to travel to China as BA extends flight suspension? Latest Foreign Office advice

British Airways has cancelled all flights to China until 17 April, while the Foreign Office warns against all but essential travel

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Thursday 27 February 2020 17:40
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British Airways suspends all flights to China amid coronavirus outbreak

The travel implications of the coronavirus crisis have taken dramatic turns over the last couple of weeks. The Foreign Office is warning against all-but-essential travel to mainland China, and British Airways has suspended flights to China until 17 April.

These are the key questions and answers.

What has the Foreign Office said?

The Foreign Office has hardened its travel advice to China. Previously, the FCO only warned against travel to Hubei province in central China. That includes the city of Wuhan, where the virus originated.

The rest of the People’s Republic, including the key tourist cities of Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, were regarded as safe.

But now the Foreign Office says it advises against “all but essential travel,” which certainly doesn’t include holidays, to the whole of China – except for Hong Kong and Macau.​

What is happening to the British travellers currently in China?

Most of those who were in Hubei have been evacuated by the government. But for British travellers everywhere else: there is no airlift.

The Foreign Office has made it clear that those who are currently in the People’s Republic should get out while they can. With the number of flights out of China significantly reduced, getting out in future could be more difficult.

What has British Airways said?

BA have cancelled all flights to mainland China until 17 April 2020.

Flights to Hong Kong are continuing.

What are the options for BA passengers due to travel on the cancelled flights?

The grounding of flights means that thousands of people with advance bookings from Beijing and Shanghai may feel stranded. The airline advises rebooking on ba.com.

British Airways is re-booking passengers on rival and partner airlines but it said that availability is limited.

Those who don't want to travel will be offered a full refund.

What are other airlines doing?

Virgin Atlantic have cancelled their flights to Shanghai until 29 March 2020. Flights to Hong Kong will continue as normal.

Air China, China Southern and China Eastern are operating as normal from Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai to Heathrow.

Tens of thousands of people are booked to travel to China – what are they supposed to do now?

Most British travellers to China are on package holidays, which makes the situation quite straightforward. Because of the Foreign Office travel advice, trips are being cancelled and for an indeterminate length of time. And that’s crucial.

Holiday companies will be dealing with customers who are due to be travelling in the near future – telling them the holiday is off, and issuing refunds. Anyone with a booking in the next few months will just have to wait.

I think it unlikely the Foreign Office advice will be changed in the next couple of weeks, but beyond that it’s hard to say. Naturally holiday companies want to run trips they’ve already sold, so they will have “rolling cancellations”. If you’re booked in May, a particularly popular month, it’s far too early to tell what the implications are.

Many travellers will have invested upwards of £150 for a visa to China. In the (unlikely) event that the visa is part of the holiday cost, you will get it refunded. Otherwise, the investment is probably lost – though it might be worth trying your travel insurance.

What are the insurance implications?

Anyone who continues with plans to visit China in spite of the advice risks invalidating their travel insurance. But conversely people who are in China trying to get out will be covered.

What do we know about the repatriation flight?

A deal has been done with the Chinese authorities to let a plane land at Wuhan, take on passengers from there and leave again for the UK.

I understand that the Foreign Office will charter a wide-bodied plane from an Asian airline, to avoid the problems with crewing that using British Airways or Virgin Atlantic would involve. It is not yet clear which UK airport will receive the evacuation flight. But wherever it is, a wide range of monitoring and health care facilities will need to be put in place.

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