United Airlines said on Tuesday that it was suspending some flights to China as the rapidly spreading coronavirus worsens in Asia. United, the world’s third-largest carrier, said the decision was made due to “a significant decline in the demand for travel to China”. From Saturday through February 8, 24 flights connecting the airline’s hub cities – including San Francisco, California; Newark, Jersey; Washington; and Chicago, Illinois – to Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai will be cancelled. The carrier said it would “continue to monitor the situation” and would “address our schedule as needed”. “Though we have implemented a temporary reduction, we are still operating flights between the US and China to enable customers to continue to travel between the two countries,” the airline, which is based in Chicago, said in an internal letter to its staff. United operates about 12 flights a day from the US to mainland China and Hong Kong; the cutbacks will reduce those by three or four a day. The other two US-based carriers that fly to China, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines, said they had not reduced their flights but were closely monitoring the situation, Reuters reported. United’s announcement came after the US Department of State issued a Level 3 warning to US citizens to avoid all non-essential travel to China. On Tuesday, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said that screening for signs of illness among passengers arriving from China was being expanded from five US airports to 20. Chinese authorities have also imposed strict travel restrictions in the area around Wuhan, the city in Hubei province that is the epicentre of the outbreak. Washington asks Beijing for permission to send health team to China The coronavirus outbreak that started there in mid-December has claimed 131 lives in the country. As of late Tuesday, the coronavirus has been diagnosed in nearly 5,500 people in China. The pneumonia-like illness has spread rapidly, with reports of cases in at least 15 countries outside China, including other parts of Asia, North America, Australia and Europe. Currently 110 people are being evaluated in the United States for infection, with five confirmed cases. The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the union which represents 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines including United, supported the cutback in flights. “This is the right proactive approach in times like these. It is not only a good business decision, it will allow United to properly provision flights around the system by consolidating universal precaution materials,” the union said in a statement following the airline’s announcement. Airlines ramp up efforts to contain risk of transmission among staff, passengers “This minimises unnecessary exposure. It also allows flight attendants to better plan for their own schedules. We appreciate United’s continued work with our union to mitigate risk during this outbreak,” the statement added. The US is among a number of nations, including South Korea, Germany, Spain and India, that are considering plans to evacuate their citizens stranded in Wuhan, which has been subject to a lockdown by Chinese authorities. Japan sent a charter flight to Wuhan on Tuesday. However, the World Health Organisation (WTO) has yet to declare the spread of the virus – also known as the “novel coronavirus” an international emergency. The organisation’s director general Tedros Adhanom said in Beijing on Tuesday that China’s handling of the crisis had set an example for other countries to follow and urged people to stay calm. Additional reporting by Reuters Purchase the China AI Report 2020 brought to you by SCMP Research and enjoy a 20% discount (original price US$400). This 60-page all new intelligence report gives you first-hand insights and analysis into the latest industry developments and intelligence about China AI. Get exclusive access to our webinars for continuous learning, and interact with China AI executives in live Q&A. Offer valid until 31 March 2020.