Sharp Jump in China Flight Searches Suggests Virus Fear Ebbing

(Bloomberg) --

Travel agency Tongcheng-Elong Holdings Ltd. said there’s a growing belief that the coronavirus outbreak is being better contained in China because the number of searches for flights on its online platform is soaring.

Searches for bookings during the April 4-6 Tomb Sweeping Holiday, or Qing Ming Festival, jumped 138% on Feb. 23 from a week earlier, while those for flights in the Labor Day break from May 1 to 5 increased 84%, the Hong Kong-listed company said in a statement Friday.

The figures support a growing flicker of optimism about the deadly outbreak, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan and led to thousands of flight cancellations and citywide lock-downs. The virus has pummeled the aviation and travel industries, among many others, and threatens economic growth right at the start of a new decade. But there are signs it is easing.

Scheduled airline capacity within China rose by 1.3 million seats from the previous week, or more than 25%, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide. The flight-data provider previously noted that the reduction in flights by Chinese airlines since late January was so drastic that the country’s aviation market shrank to smaller than Portugal’s.

Sharp Jump in China Flight Searches Suggests Virus Fear Ebbing

Coronavirus cases continue to spread further afield, with Nigeria confirming the first reported infection in sub-Saharan Africa on Thursday. The number of cases in South Korea has crossed 2,000, while infections have cropped up in countries from New Zealand to Lithuania. China is still by far the hardest hit, with nearly 80,000 infections and 2,788 deaths, but the slowdown in new cases signals the worst may be over.

Chinese epidemiologist and leading government medical adviser Zhong Nanshan said Thursday that the epidemic could be under control by the end of April. Local governments around the country are loosening criteria for factories to resume operating as authorities try to get people back to work, while companies are reopening stores, including Starbucks Corp., whose Chief Executive Officer Kevin Johnson said there are early signs of a recovery in the region.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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