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SAS cancels flights to China as coronavirus spreads

Scandinavian airline SAS is cancelling flights to and from mainland China over fears of the potentially deadly coronavirus.

SAS cancels flights to China as coronavirus spreads
SAS said it had decided to ground all flights to and from mainland China. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
Editor's note: The situation around the novel coronavirus is changing rapidly, and this article is no longer being updated. Please click HERE for the latest updates and HERE for all our coronavirus coverage.

“The safety of our passengers and employees is our highest priority. After evaluating the situation in China regarding the coronavirus, SAS has decided to suspend all flights to and from Shanghai and Beijing,” said the airline in a statement on Thursday afternoon.

The cancellations affect flights from Copenhagen – the main international airport used by people based in Denmark and southern Sweden – between January 31st and February 9th.

SAS said it was also closing sales for flights to Shanghai and Beijing until February 29th.

Flights to and from Hong Kong are not affected by the cancellations.

Passengers who were due to travel to, from or via Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong would be allowed to change their reservation and rebook their flight to another travel date, or receive a refund, said SAS.

Here's a link to more information about changing your flight or requesting a refund.

READ ALSO: Norwegian hospital debunks 'fake news' coronavirus rumour

Meanwhile in Europe, a cruise ship carrying 6,000 passengers was placed on lockdown off the coast of Italy as a Chinese couple were being tested for the coronavirus.

The outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan – which is an international transport hub – at a fish market in late December and since then 170 people have died, with about 7,700 confirmed cases.

Outside China, Macau and Hong Kong there have been at least 80 infections reported, including one person in Finland, but none in the rest of the Nordic region.

The large extent of international travel means that individual cases of people contracting the virus cannot be ruled out, but health authorities believe the risk of catching the virus in Scandinavia is very low.

What you need to know about the coronavirus in Sweden, Denmark and Norway

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TRAVEL NEWS

EXPLAINED: What’s behind the queues at Stockholm Arlanda airport?

Travellers are reporting queues over an hour long at Stockholm's Arlanda airport. What's going on and how long is it expected to last?

EXPLAINED: What's behind the queues at Stockholm Arlanda airport?

What’s the situation at Stockholm Arlanda airport? 

On Friday morning, there were queues lasting over an hour at Arlanda’s security controls. By 10am, they had been reduced to below half an hour, according to the live update the airport operator, Swedavia, maintains on its website here

Swedavia first began warning of long queue times on Monday, saying the queues were the result of a resurgence in travel combined with staffing shortages at Avarn, the contractor responsible for managing the security checks. 

“The wait times are due to a staff shortage with our security services contractor – which is caused by ongoing recruitment and absences due to illness,” the airport said on its website

What are travellers saying? 

Twitter is predictably awash with angry comments from travellers, including some well-known commentators. 

The terrorism researcher Magnus Ranstorp resorted to capital letters to bemoan the “CATASTROPHE” at the airport. 

The Financial Times’ Nordic Correspondent also compared the situation at Arlanda unfavourably with the smooth controls at Helsinki Airport

“Never seen anything like it and sounds like might be worse today. In Terminal 5 both queues, SAS and Norwegian, were well over 100 metres long,” he told The Local. “It took me 50 minutes to get through security. Don’t think it’s ever taken more than 10 in the Nordics before.” 

What should you do if you are travelling through Stockholm Arlanda at the moment? 

Swedavia recommends that you arrive “well in advance” when taking a flight. You can contact your airline here to find out when their check-ins and baggage drops open.  

Swedavia also recommends that you do everything possible to speed up the check-in process, such as:

  • checking in from home
  • packing hand baggage to make screening faster
  • checking the need for a face covering in advance
  • checking that you have the right travel documents ready 

If you can’t check in from home, Swedavia recommends seeing if you can check in using an automated machine at the airport.

What is the airport doing to to improve the situation? 

On June 15th, the airport is reopening Terminal 4, which might help somewhat, although the airport warns that as staffing is the major problem, having more space will not fully solve the problem over the summer. 

In a press release issued on Friday, Svedavia’s chief operations officer, Peder Grunditz, said opening a new terminal was “an important measure”. 

“We are now going to have the three biggest terminals back in operation for the first time since the pandemic,” he said. 

The company and Avarn are also making “big recruitment efforts” and taking “operational measures” to improve the queue situation, although the “challenging labour market” made that difficult. 

When will waiting times return to normal? 

In his press release, Grunditz conceded that waiting times were not likely to return to normal during the summer, due to the rapid growth in the number of people taking flights. 

“Even though we expect gradual improvements, the queuing situation is going to continue to be challenging during periods over the summer,” he said. 

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