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Juneyao postpones Dublin-China route - but experts more bullish on curing coronavirus

Mark Evans


Business Travel

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Wu said the team in China is now "confident there will be full immunisation in weeks, not months". (stock photo)

Wu said the team in China is now "confident there will be full immunisation in weeks, not months". (stock photo)

Wu said the team in China is now "confident there will be full immunisation in weeks, not months". (stock photo)

China's Juneyao Airlines has opted to postpone the March 29 launch of its service from Dublin to Shanghai amid the ongoing concerns over the coronavirus.

The route - announced in late November - was a major coup for Dublin Airport following the decision by Chinese carrier Hainan Airlines to axe its six-month-old route to Shenzhen last August, and put its Dublin-Beijing service on ice until this year.

A spokesman for Juneyao, meanwhile, said the Shanghai-headquartered carrier was "just rescheduling the start date ... due to operational reasons".

He told the Irish Independent the airline "expects the new date will be in late April", adding: "The safety of our passengers and employees is always our highest priority.

"Due to the situation in China regarding the coronavirus, Juneyao Air will continue to monitor the situation in close dialogue with authorities."

The airline will be operating the route using a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, offering 29 seats in business class and stopping over in Helsinki to and from China's biggest financial centre. The airline is also keen to grab a slice of the valuable cargo market from this country to the Asian giant's major port.

Another knock-on is connectivity from Shanghai to the wider region. The new service also boasts onward connections to 40 other Chinese destinations, six cities in Japan and 10 other Asia-Pacific destinations.

Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific, which put its four-weekly Dublin-Hong Kong service on hold during the winter, is due to resume services on March 29.

However, the carrier could not confirm the current outlook at the time of writing. Hainan, meanwhile, could not be contacted for a confirmation date on its resumed service from Ireland to China's capital.

It's a worrying situation for the business sector, given the scale of trade between the two countries - with Enterprise Ireland client exports alone at a record €1.03bn, representing just over half of the total Asia-Pacific market. And in 2018 alone, an estimated 100,000 Chinese visited this country for leisure purposes, with China the world's biggest outbound market.

Despite hitting the 32.5 million passenger mark last year, Ireland's biggest airport said traffic to Asia, the Middle East and Africa was "flat" at just over one million passengers - with the withdrawal of services a major factor.

While Wang Junjin, Juneyao Air's chairman, said last year that "we see strong demand for travel between Ireland and Shanghai", much of the heavy lifting is being done by the hub carriers: Emirates, Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways via their respective hubs. For now, the business market is dead in the water.

Turkish Airlines halted services to Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Xi'an from Istanbul on January 29 until at least February 29.

Qatar stopped all services to China from Doha from February 3, with no end date specified.

Etihad suspended flights to Shanghai and Chengdu on February 5, but Beijing is operating for now.

Meanwhile, Emirates - which had a coronavirus false alarm in Dublin this week - halted flights from Dubai to Shanghai and Guangzhou from February 5, while it is maintaining the Beijing route.

So far, so gloomy for the corporate travel sector. But there may yet be an upside - coming from the travel industry itself. UK-based Chinese entrepreneur Wendy Wu operates the biggest inbound leisure travel operation to China in key markets, including the UK, Australia and New Zealand, carrying tens of thousands of tourists each year.

Wu, who has good access in Chinese circles, has been kept updated on the coronavirus situation by the team handling the outbreak - Dr Zhong Nanshan and colleague Dr Li Lanjuan.

Zhong is confident that the virus is near to its peak and that immunisation programmes will come soon.

And he has expertise in this area. The epidemiologist and pulmonologist earned international fame for managing the Sars outbreak, while Li was the first expert to propose the lockdown of Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus, which was accepted by the Chinese government.

"He is the genius behind the elimination of Sars and he is the leading doctor on the coronavirus taskforce," Wu said of Zhong. "He gives all the advice to the government on what needs to be done. His latest update was on Tuesday," Wu told the Irish Independent. "They expect this coronavirus to peak around the eighth of February, after which the threat will subside. That is also being supported by the evidence of the last three days - newly confirmed cases of people having the virus are still increasing, however the recovery rate of patients being released for the last three consecutive days has passed fatalities."

She added: "Another positive thing is the total accumulated fatality number is far less than those who have recovered."

She attributes much of the speed to the Chinese team publishing the structure of the virus on January 10 and releasing that to medical experts globally, which in turn led to a team in Australia developing the virus in what has been described as a 'game-changer'.

Wu said the team in China is now "confident there will be full immunisation in weeks, not months".

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