Ethiopian Airlines denies suspending flights to China amid coronavirus outbreak

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian Airlines late on Thursday denied reports it had suspended all flights to China, where an outbreak of coronavirus has killed at least 170 people.

The airline, Africa’s most profitable, is the main gateway between China and Africa and suspension of its service would significantly disrupt air travel. The carrier runs six flights to China daily across five Chinese destinations.

A statement issued by the airline said all flights were operating normally, contradicting the carrier’s passenger call center that had told Reuters earlier in the day that flights to the Asian country had been suspended.

“We are operating our regular flights to all of our five gateways in China, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Hong Kong with the usual supply and demand adjustment that we always make during the Chinese New Year Holidays,” read the statement.

China has heavily invested in Ethiopia in recent years, as it has in other African countries.

Ethiopia’s state minister for Health Lia Tadesse said in a tweet on Thursday that tests for coronavirus on four Ethiopians at a lab in South Africa came back negative.

Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Alex Richardson