Chinese airline cites Chinese virus to ban cargo flights to India

China's lack of cooperation in the time of India's dire need stands in sharp contrast with help pouring in from all over the world

Chinese airline cites Chinese virus to ban cargo flights to India
An Airbus A320 of Sichuan Airlines. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Alec Wilson

In what would be one of the greatest ironies, a Chinese airline has suspended cargo flights to India for 15 days citing the worsening pandemic caused by a virus that originated from China itself and continues to hold the entire world at ransom for over a year.

This decision by China's state-run Sichuan Airlines on April 26 has severely hit the availability of oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies to India, which is being overrun by a massive Covid surge and oxygen crunch, according to a PTI report. 

The Sichuan Chuanhang Logistics Company Limited, which is part of Sichuan Airlines, said in a letter to sales agents that cargo flights were suspended on six routes, including Xian to Delhi. The company added that the decision was taken to "reduce the number of imported cases (of Covid-19)"  in view of the "sudden changes in the epidemic situation (in India)".  

"Indian route has always been the core strategic route for Sichuan Airlines. This suspension has also caused great losses to our company. We are very sorry for the unchanged situation," the company added. The company would review the situation after 15 days.

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The move, however, flies in the face of China's claims of being "ready to help India fight the virus at the first opportunity available". It also reeks of hypocrisy considering that Chinese cargo flights and shipping services have been operational throughout the pandemic to send lucrative mobile phone supplies and a lot of other Chinese exports to India. China has enjoyed a balance of trade with India that is heavily skewed in its favour for a very long time, though Chinese exports were hit following the military standoff between the two sides last year. 

The move raises eyebrows also because there is no crew change in India for cargo flights and the same crew flies the aircraft back, which minimises their risk of contracting the virus in India. Moreover, there is virtually no Indians, except diplomats, on flights to China as visas for Indians have been suspended by China since November last year and flights continue to be banned. The ban would still have made some sense if we were talking about passenger flights. 

The suspension of cargo flights at the height of the crisis in India has severely disrupted attempts by private traders in both countries to arrange quick supplies of oxygen concentrators to rush to India. The supplies would now have to be re-routed through Singapore and other countries using different airlines, wasting a lot of time in the process. The suspension of cargo flights came as a shock to freight forwarders who have been frantically trying to procure oxygen concentrators from China to send to India. 

Alarmingly, there are also reports to Chinese manufacturers hiking prices of essential medical equipment by 35-40% and freight charges increasing by over 20%. This has tended to highlight the inhuman side of the Chinese suppliers, though Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin tended to defend the price hike, saying that India buying medical supplies from China is a "commercial activity". Wang added, "If India raises specific demands, China is ready to provide help and support to the best of capability."

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China's lack of cooperation despite sugar-coated words in official statements in the time of India's dire need also stands in sharp contrast with help pouring in from all over the world,  establishing the strength of India's insistence on Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is one family), and could be seen as a token of reciprocation for India's 'Vaccine Maitri' (Vaccine Friendship) that led India to transport numerous doses of homemade Covid-19 vaccines to various parts of the world. 

Meanwhile, the Covid-19 condition in India continues to be dreadful. India added more than three lakh daily cases for the eighth consecutive day on April 29. As many as 3,79,257 new cases were reported in the past 24 hours, with 10 states (Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan) accounting for around 72% of the cases. Maharashtra continued to lead the pack with 63,309 new cases. 

India's total active caseload reached 30,84,814, including a net incline of 1,06,105 cases. 

In the past 24 hours, 3,645 deaths were reported. Here too, Maharashtra is at the top of the table with 1,035 deaths, followed by Delhi (368 deaths) and Chhattisgarh (279 deaths). The shortage of oxygen, hospital beds and testing kits continue to exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in India.

(Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Alec Wilson)