Direct passenger flights from the UK to mainland China are set to resume for the first time since 2020, the British Embassy in Beijing announced on Wednesday.
China unilaterally barred direct flights from the United Kingdom in December 2020 when the Alpha COVID-19 variant was first detected in the South East of England. The variant was blamed for an explosion of infections and prompted a new wave of stringent travel bans.
While the rest of the world has removed nearly all pandemic-era travel restrictions, China is only now loosening travel rules that remain the world’s most strictest. The British government said it had been in “continuous contact” with Beijing since late last year in an effort to ease the all-out flight ban.
The decision to resume direct passenger flights came following an agreement between Britain’s Department for Transport and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
The British Embassy said flights would initially only be offered by Chinese airlines, while “work is ongoing” to resume flights by British airlines to mainland China.
British Airways initially pulled out of mainland China in January 2020 but continued to operate a small number of flights to Shanghai until the ban was imposed. The airline eventually abandoned Hong Kong last November over strict quarantine rules and still has no plans to return to the territory.
The decision by the Chinese authorities to ease travel restrictions will be welcomed by both Chinese students and British universities, as well as others who want to visit the UK for either leisure or business.
Chinese citizens must, however, still go into quarantine on their return to China, while most visitors are banned from entering the country.
Beijing has relentlessly pursued a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy despite signs of it being derailed by the highly transmissible BA.5 variant. Chinese cities remain subject to lockdowns and mass testing exercises to detect and stamp out virus flareups.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.