Trade between China and Kenya has been dealt a further blow after the suspension of the only remaining direct flights between the Asian country and Nairobi amid fears of the spread of the novel coronavirus, which had by Sunday infected 37,198 people in China alone.
China Southern Airlines has cancelled all its four weekly direct flights only 10 days after Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ halted direct flights into Guangzhou, China. This came against the backdrop of reports that 2,600 new cases had been reported by Sunday.
China Southern Airlines has also frozen travel reservations on the carrier till end of June. The outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in China has resulted in travel restrictions into and within the Asian giant. By Friday the death toll in mainland China reached 637.
Following the service changes, the Chinese airline will stop the two weekly Nairobi-Changsha service, a route it launched in June last year on the back of increased travel demands from China into Africa. The airline operated the weekly service on Sundays and Wednesdays. The airline is also set to stop the Monday and Friday direct flights on the Nairobi-Guangzhou route.
"The last Changsha flight will be on February 9 (Sunday) and the Guangzhou will be on February 10 (Monday) and this changes will last up to March 28," said the airlines marketing manager, Belinda Agwena. "The cancellation of the flights has largely been driven by the need to combat coronavirus."
Passengers will have the option of using airlines with connecting hubs in Africa, the Middle East and Asia to travel to Kenya or China.
The decision by China Southern Airlines and KQ follows the decision by a host of other airlines to suspend or reduce flights frequency into China.
Air Canada, American Airlines, Air Asia, Japan Airlines, British Airways and Qatar Airways are among the more than 20 major airlines that have suspended flights to and from China.
The cancellation of the direct flights is set to further escalate supply chain disruptions from the lockdown of the "world’s factory". Coronavirus has also seen China order the closure of most of the factories in the affected regions, a move that is also impacting on trade in Kenya.
Last week, vendors reported delays as the Chinese suppliers blamed the lockdown for delayed delivery of the items.
Over the last decade, China has grown to become Kenya’s largest trade partner and biggest bilateral lender with imports value hitting Sh324.9 billion in 2019.
Parcel and logistics firm, China Post’s Express Mail Service (EMS), whose service coverage extends to Kenya and 219 other countries across the globe, warned its customers to expect late deliveries owing to delays in transportation as it strived to meet safety measures.
Chinese e-commerce Kilimall said it would delay orders, although it attributed this to the Lunar New Year festivities, which were extended to contain the spread of the virus.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has pledged to convene a global research and innovation forum next week to mobilise international efforts to combat the viral disease.