A member of Ethiopian Airlines staff wears a face mask at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport on Jan. 31, 2020. (Luke Dray/AFP/Getty Images) ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — As dozens of airlines around the world forgo massive profits and suspend flights to China amid fears of spreading the new coronavirus, Africa’s biggest airline continues to transport thousands from China to Africa every day.
Ethiopian Airlines has become the loudest proponent of sticking by China’s side and keeping trade links open, even while six other African airlines including Kenya Airways and South African Airways have suspended their flights.
“Ethiopian Airlines serves countries in good and bad times,” the airline’s CEO, Tewolde Gebremariam, told local media in Ethiopia this weekend. “China has a strong trade and investment relationship with Africa, and Ethiopian Airlines is the major carrier that links China with many African countries. If we stop flights to China, we break that relationship.”
While no coronavirus case has been confirmed on the continent, jitters have spread as preparedness to test for the disease has only slowly ramped up and China’s economy, Africa’s biggest trading partner, has taken a huge hit.
“Today, if we are not going to fly to China, China and Africa are going to be completely disconnected,” said Tewolde. “We have to take maximum precautions, but stopping flights is not one of them.”
The World Health Organization — headed by Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — has not advised airlines to withdraw flights to China, and Tewolde said that his decisions were in line with global guidelines. Health and passport screening at the airline’s hub in Addis Ababa were stringent enough to catch suspected cases before they entered Ethiopia or transited to other African countries as most of the airline’s passengers do, he said.
The assurances did little to assuage doubts, even among African leaders. Earlier this week, Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta made a public plea to Ethiopian Airlines while visiting Washington, saying that the need to protect the health of Kenyans went beyond Kenya’s economic relationship with China.
“Our worry as a country is not that China cannot manage the disease. Our biggest worry is diseases coming into areas with weaker health systems like ours,” he said . “It has nothing to do with our relationship with any country, it’s about protecting our people from the risk of infection.”
Estimates of how many Chinese citizens live in Africa vary between 200,000 and 2 million, and the influence […]