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Why connecting hubs now risky in coronavirus outbreak

Tuesday February 4 2020


Kenya Airways suspended flights to Guangzhou, China, over the coronavirus, days after it said it was monitoring the situation. PHOTO | FILE NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Kenyans are still able to travel to China and back despite the national carrier’s suspending flights to the Asian country.

A host of airlines, with connecting hubs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia are still able to land in Nairobi, offering travellers a leeway, but also putting the country to a higher risk of exposure to the deadly coronavirus that has so far claimed 362 lives.

On Saturday, Kenya Airways suspended flights to Guangzhou, China, over the coronavirus, days after it said it was monitoring the situation.

The airline however left open its connecting flight to Bangkok, which hasn’t suspended any flights with China, offering a route for those still seeking to access mainland China, and still raising the country’s exposure levels.

On Sunday, it emerged that one of the travellers quarantined in Nairobi was from Beijing and had taken a Kenya Airways connecting flight in Dubai, while the other arrived from China aboard a China Southern Airlines plane.

A third case with a passenger from Guangzhou was also reported in Mombasa. The three cases have since been declared ‘false alarms’ after tests turned out negative.


However, the connecting hubs are raising the risk for the country as other nations effect temporary travel bans with China in a bid to fight the spread of the deadly virus.


China Southern Airlines still flies its four-day-a-week frequency between Guangzhou, Changsha and Nairobi.

The airline flies two weekly flights to Guangzhou and back, with a similar frequency to Changsha, the Capital of Hubei province that borders Hunan, the coronavirus outbreak epicentre.

More than 200,000 passengers connect between China and Kenya annually, with over 96,000 of these coming through China Southern flights.

Emirates also flies twice a day between its Dubai hub and Nairobi, offering travellers a connection to China.

On Monday, the airline said it would continue flying to mainland China despite the virus.

Ethiopian airlines, with four daily flights to Nairobi, is also a connection between China and Kenya, as the airline last week said it would still fly to the Asian country.


Ethiopian Airlines said it would continue flying to China, serving its five destinations of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong with the usual demand and supply adjustment.

“We are working together with relevant Chinese and Ethiopian Authorities to protect our passengers from the coronavirus,” Ethiopian Airlines said in a statement.

Doha-based Qatar airline with 26 weekly flights between Doha and Kenya, including three daily flights between Doha and Nairobi, five times weekly with Mombasa has also not effected any flight ban with China.

Over two dozen airlines, including British Airways, RwandAir, KLM, Egypt Air, Air France, Lufthansa, Air Maroc, Turkish Airline as well as Air France, which all have connecting flights to Nairobi, via their respective hubs have cancelled their flights to China as the Asian country struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus.

They join about two dozen other airlines to stop flying to the Asian nation.