Trump stops Europe flights, China says coronavirus outbreak may end by June

Reuters
By Liangping Gao and Andrea Shalal

BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Travelers scrambled to rebook flights and markets reeled on Thursday after U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sweeping restrictions on travel from Europe, hitting battered airlines and heightening global alarm over the coronavirus.

But China, where the disease originated, said its epidemic had peaked and the global spread could be over by June if other nations applied similarly aggressive containment measures as Beijing’s communist government.

Trump had downplayed risks to the United States during the crisis, but with epidemics ballooning from Iran to Italy and Spain, he limited travel from continental Europe for 30 days.

“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” he said in a prime-time televised address from the Oval Office on Wednesday.

That sent markets into a tailspin, with European shares plunging to their lowest in almost four years and oil also slumping.

It also sent stressed travelers rushing to airports to board last flights back to the United States.

“It caused a mass panic,” said 20-year-old Anna Grace, a U.S. student at Suffolk University on her first trip to Europe who rushed to Madrid’s Barajas airport at 5 a.m. to get home.

The outbreak has disrupted industry, travel, entertainment and sports worldwide, even throwing the Tokyo Summer Olympics into question. But its progress in the epicenter of China’s Hubei province has slowed markedly amid strict curbs on movement, including the lockdown of its capital Wuhan.

Hubei logged just eight new infections on Wednesday, the first time in the outbreak it has recorded a daily tally of less than 10. Beyond Hubei, mainland China had just seven new cases, six of them imported from abroad.

“The peak of the epidemic has passed for China,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission.

OVER BY JUNE?

The Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, Zhong Nanshan, an 83-year-old epidemiologist renowned for helping combat the SARS outbreak in 2003, said the crisis could be over by mid-year.

“If all countries could get mobilized, it could be over by June,” he said. “But if some countries do not treat the infectiousness and harmfulness seriously, and intervene strongly, it would last longer.”

The coronavirus has infected more than 126,000 people across the world, the vast majority in China, and killed 4,624, according to a Reuters tally.

Already annoyed at what it considered over-draconian travel restrictions by Washington early in the crisis, Beijing smarted again at latest U.S. criticism of its handling.

White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien accused China on Wednesday of initially covering up the Hubei outbreak, saying that cost the world two months in response time.

In fact, retorted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, China’s efforts bought the world time and “immoral and irresponsible” remarks would not help U.S. epidemic efforts.

The World Health Organization (WHO) now officially describes the crisis as a pandemic, meaning it is spreading fast across the globe.

“Describing this as a pandemic does not mean that countries should give up,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told diplomats in Geneva. “The idea that countries should shift from containment to mitigation is wrong and dangerous.”

Trump’s surprise travel order, which starts at midnight on Friday, does not apply to Britain or to Americans undergoing “appropriate screenings”, he said. “The restriction stops people not goods,” he tweeted after his speech.

EU DISAPPROVAL

The 27-nation European Union (EU) bloc was not impressed.

“The European Union disapproves of the fact that the U.S. decision to improve a travel ban was taken unilaterally and without consultation,” European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and Council president Charles Michel said in a statement.

The market plunge hit airline and leisure stocks particularly hard.

“This is something that markets had not factored in … it’s a huge near-term economic cost,” Khoon Goh, head of Asia Research at ANZ in Singapore, said of the U.S. move.

Although exempt from Trump’s ban and no longer a member of the EU, Britain also expressed disappointment, saying it would have an impact on its economy.

But U.S. Vice President Mike Pence defended the new restrictions, saying the epicenter of the pandemic had shifted from Asia to Europe. “We know there will be more infections in the days ahead. We’re trying to hold that number down as much as possible,” Pence told NBC’s “Today” program.

In the United States, classes were suspended for two weeks in the greater Seattle area, which accounts for the bulk of at least 38 U.S. fatalities from the disease.

Oscar-winning American actor Tom Hanks tested positive in Australia, where he is on a film shoot.

Despite fears for the Tokyo Olympics, the torch relay got started in Greece when the flame was lit by the rays of the sun in ancient Olympia – albeit in a scaled-down ceremony and without spectators.

(Additional reporting by Ryan Woo, Stella Qui, Kevin Yao and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Alexandra Alper, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, David Lawder, and Richard Cowan in Washington, Marine Strauus in Brussels, William Schomberg in London, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Karolos Grohmann in Ancient Olympia; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne)

Mexico may allow U.S. air marshals to use stun guns on flights

Homeland Security personnel keep watch as travelers depart at Lindbergh Field airport in San Diego, California, U.S. July 1, 2016.

By Gabriel Stargardter

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico is in talks with the United States on whether to allow U.S. federal air marshals to travel with Taser stun guns on cross-border flights with U.S. airlines, National Security Commissioner Renato Sales said in a TV interview on Tuesday.

Sales’ comments come the day after Reuters exclusively revealed that Mexico and the United States were looking into an agreement that could allow armed U.S. federal air marshals to be deployed on commercial cross-border flights.

Mexico has been trying to prove itself a good ally to the United States in hopes this will help its efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in terms that are as favorable as possible.

In his interview with broadcaster Televisa, Sales said no memorandum of understanding had been signed with the United States, adding that talks to allow U.S. federal marshals in Mexico stretch back years.

“They would only be on commercial (U.S.) flights, on (U.S.) airlines, not on Mexican airlines,” he said. “But it’s still not finalized … we’re still in talks.”

Reuters reported on Monday that the hardest part of the negotiations would center on allowing U.S. officials to carry arms, given that the use of weapons by foreigners in Mexico is sensitive and tightly regulated.

Sales said he understood that the U.S. federal air marshals would carry stun guns, not lethal weapons, and said they would be undercover, but did not give any further details.

It was still not clear if the air marshals would fly on just U.S.-bound flights, Mexico-bound flights, or both.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) places sharp-shooters on certain domestic and international commercial flights to and from the United States to prevent militant attacks.

In a statement on Monday, Mexico’s foreign ministry confirmed that the government was evaluating the plan’s potential operational and security benefits but added that no agreement has yet been reached.

The foreign ministry has pushed hard to defend NAFTA ahead of a July 2018 election in which the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is currently polling third.

Mexico, Canada and the United States are currently engaged in fraught negotiations to reshape NAFTA, a lynchpin of the Mexican economy that Trump has threatened to abandon.

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Editing by David Gregorio)

More flights canceled after Atlanta airport’s day without power

Passengers walk through the newly opened Maynard H. Jackson Jr. International Terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia May 16, 2012.

(Reuters) – Hundreds of flights were canceled into and out of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Monday, a day after a paralyzing 11-hour power outage at the world’s busiest airport left passengers marooned on airplanes idling on the tarmac.

More than 400 planned flights to or from Atlanta were scrapped and another 86 were delayed, according to the FlightAware tracking service.

The airport lost power on Sunday morning after what Georgia Power believes was an equipment failure and subsequent fire in an underground electrical facility. Power for essential activities was restored by 11.45 p.m., the utility company said.

By then, miserable would-be passengers had posted pictures and videos that were widely shared online of their confinement inside planes stuck outside darkened terminals as boredom and hunger mounted. They were all disembarked safely by about 10 p.m., nine hours after the outage began. More than 1,100 flights were canceled on Sunday.

Officials at the airport, which is run by the city of Atlanta, sought to mollify customers on Sunday with thousands of free meals, water and parking spots as power began to return.

While some stranded travelers found rooms in hotels, city authorities also provided shelter at the Georgia International Convention Center.

Delta said customers whose travel was disrupted could make a one-time change to travel plans within certain guidelines. Other airlines also offered waivers for flight changes. Delta said its flight schedule in Atlanta was expected to return to normal by Monday afternoon.

More than 100 million trips and connections began or ended at the airport in 2015, according to Airports Council International.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

Typhoon Nida shuts Hong Kong, more than 150 flights canceled

Typhoon Nida uproots trees

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Typhoon Nida swept through Hong Kong on Tuesday, shutting down most of the financial hub and disrupting hundreds of flights with gale-force winds, while low-lying areas were put on flood alert.

Hong Kong’s first major typhoon this year brought gusts of more than 100 km per hour (62 mph) and prompted authorities to issue an amber warning, signifying heavy rain, at 5.20 a.m. Hong Kong time.

More than 150 flights were canceled, the Airport Authority said, with Cathay Pacific and Dragonair warning none of their flights would be operating until 2 p.m. at the earliest.

Thousands of passengers were stranded at the airport and about 325 flights are expected to be rescheduled.

The city’s ferry, tram and bus services gradually resumed in the afternoon after the Hong Kong Observatory lowered the tropical cyclone warning to 3 from 8, shortly after midday.

Trading in Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEx), including Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect trading, and the derivatives market, would be suspended for the rest of the day.

The Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society suspended trading on Tuesday morning.

Streets had been largely deserted and shops shuttered since Monday evening when the typhoon signal 8 was hoisted, prompting many people to leave work early.

Nida was moving inland and winds near its center had showed signs of weakening, the Hong Kong Observatory said.

Across the border, part of Guangdong province closed offices, factories and schools as the typhoon swept across the southern part of the metropolis of Guangzhou.

Airports in the southern part of the province, including Shenzhen and Zhuhai, canceled most flights while more than 35,000 people were evacuated, state media reported.

Last month, Typhoon Nepartak drove at least 420,000 people from their homes and caused more than 7.1 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) in losses in China’s Fujian province alone.

(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Yimou Lee in Hong Kong; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

EU allows Iran’s state carrier to resume flights in bloc

Lion Air airplane

By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Iran’s state airline, which has just reached an agreement with Boeing Co to purchase new jetliners, can resume flights in the EU, the European Commission said on Thursday.

Iran is dangling the prospect of significant business for Western planemakers as it emerges from decades of sanctions.

While the European Commission, the EU’s executive, said Iranair could resume flights, some of the carrier’s aircraft would remain on the EU’s safety blacklist.

“I am happy to announce that we are now also able to allow most aircraft from Iranair back into European skies,” said EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc. The Commission said the decision followed a visit to Iran by the EU executive in April.

The Commission also removed Indonesian budget carrier Lion Air, a major buyer of Airbus and Boeing jets, from its safety blacklist.

Iranair will be allowed to fly all of its planes in the EU except the Boeing 747-200s, Boeing 747SPs and Fokker 100s, the Commission said.

Iran needs an estimated 400 jets to renew its fleet and prepare for projected growth, according to Iranian and Western estimates.

Tehran said on Tuesday that it had reached an agreement with Boeing for the supply of jetliners, reopening the country’s skies to new U.S. aircraft for the first time in decades.

The Iranian flag carrier also agreed in January to buy 118 jets worth $27 billion from Airbus and is discussing further orders with Airbus.

The decision to remove Lion Air from the EU blacklist could also potentially lead to the Indonesian carrier buying more planes, analysts have said.

Lion’s five airlines operate a combined fleet of more than 200 aircraft, mostly Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s. The company, which plans a stock exchange listing possibly early next year, has around 500 more aircraft on order, and expects to take delivery of 40 aircraft this year.

The EU executive also removed Indonesia’s Citilink, Batik Air, Air Madagascar and all Zambian airlines from its blacklist.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Susan Fenton)