By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Transportation Department said Friday it would suspend 44 China-bound flights from the United States by four Chinese carriers in response to the Chinese government's decision to suspend some U.S. carrier flights over COVID-19 concerns.
The Biden administration action came after Chinese authorities suspended a total of 44 United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines flights after some passengers tested positive for COVID-19.
The suspensions will begin on Jan. 30 with Xiamen Airlines' scheduled Los Angeles-to-Xiamen flight.
The decision will cut some flights by Xiamen, Air China, China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately comment.
The Transportation Department said China's suspension of some flights "are adverse to the public interest and warrant proportionate remedial action." It added that China's "unilateral actions against the named U.S. carriers are inconsistent" with a China-U.S. bilateral agreement.
The department said that if China revised its "policies to bring about the necessary improved situation for U.S. carriers, the Department is fully prepared to once again revisit the action." But it also warned that if China cancels more flights, "we reserve the right to take additional action."
The number of U.S. flights being scrapped has surged since December, as infections caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus soared to record highs in the United States.
Beijing and Washington have sparred over air services since the start of the pandemic. In August, the U.S. Transportation Department limited four flights from Chinese carriers to 40% passenger capacity for four weeks after Beijing imposed identical limits on four United Airlines flights.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)