First flight of returning European employees lands in China

Beijing (AFP) –


A Lufthansa plane carrying around 200 mainly German workers landed in China on Saturday, marking the first return of Europeans since the country suspended visas over the coronavirus.

China drastically cut international flight routes in late March and imposed a entry ban on most foreigners -- including those with valid residence visas.

The move underlined its fears over imported coronavirus cases and a second wave of infections as the virus epicentre shifted beyond China, where the deadly pathogen was first reported late last year.

Many workers found themselves stranded abroad and unable to return after leaving China at the height of the epidemic.

Lufthansa's flight from Frankfurt landed shortly before noon at Tianjin airport, southeast of Beijing, the German flag-carrier said.

The group, made up of employees of German companies and their families, were tested for COVID-19 after they landed and will have to quarantine for two weeks.

"We did not know if this plane would leave or not" until the last minute, said passenger Alexander Ophoven before takeoff.

A second aircraft -- reserved for people whose who need to be in China for economic, commercial, scientific or technological purposes, or for urgent humanitarian reasons -- is scheduled to depart from Frankfurt for Shanghai on June 3.

There are more than 5,000 German companies operating in China, according to the local German Chamber of Commerce.

Two months after closing its borders, China is beginning to lift restrictions on foreigners.

Beijing announced on Friday that some Singapore nationals will be allowed to return from early June. They will only be allowed entry into six cities and provinces initially, including Shanghai.

The number of international flights between China and the rest of the world will increase from 134 to 407 per week as of Monday, according to the Chinese Civil Aviation Administration.