KLM starts canceling flights to China over coronavirus fears

KLM began canceling its direct flights to China due to the outbreak of coronavirus ​2019-CoV, the Dutch airline announced on Wednesday. All direct flights between Schiphol Airport and Chengdu and Hangzhou were scrapped beginning January 30, as were all nonstop flights to Xiamen starting Friday. 

The airline also reduced its schedule to Shanghai from 11 flights weekly down to seven. The reduced schedule is in effect through February 29.

All seven weekly flights to Beijing will continue as planned. Normally, KLM has direct flights from Schiphol to the Chinese cities of Beijing, Chengdu, Hangzhou, Shanghai and Xiamen, as well as nearby Hong Kong.

"KLM is closely following the developments of the coronavirus outbreak in China, and has close contact with various national and international health and aviation authorities. Based on current information from these authorities, there is currently no reason to suspend the entire operation to China," the airline said in a statement.

This week KLM said that it was handing out medical masks to all staff working on flights to China, and allowing travelers to rebook or canceled flights to the country free of charge. 

Earlier on Wednesday, British Airlines announced that it canceled all its direct flights to China for the coming days, following the British government's advice not to travel to China unless absolutely necessary. The Dutch government is not yet advising against traveling to China, only calling on travelers to be aware of the health risks and measures taken by the Chinese government.

On Monday, Minister Bruno Bruins for Medical Care announced that the coronavirus was classified as a so-called A disease. At the advice of the RIVM, the Netherlands was scaled up to the highest level of vigilance. This means that care workers must immediately report any suspicion of patients being infected with 2019-CoV, and potentially infected patients can be forced into quarantine. All Dutch hospitals have quarantine rooms available, according to Bruins. 

Despite the increased vigilance, so far no passengers will be screened for the virus at Schiphol airport. Bruins said that good hygiene and avoiding sick people are better preventative measures than handing out masks to everyone arriving from China. With previous disease outbreaks, screening passengers at Schiphol proved not to be effective, which is why this measure hasn't been implemented now, he said.

The European Commission is sending two planes to collect Europeans from the Chinese province of Hubei in the coming days. The epicenter of 019-CoV was in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei, and so far most of the infections happened there. According to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 Dutch people are in the Hubei province, and all of them are in Wuhan. 

As of Wednesday, 132 people died as a result of 2019-CoV. In China, at least 5,974 people were diagnosed with the virus. Elsewhere in the world there's been a few dozen cases, according to NOS.