Iranian state airline Mahan Air, which is sanctioned by the United States and Germany, has operated flights between Iran and China despite both countries being two of the most infected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a Voice of America report on Thursday.

These flights have occurred even after Jan. 31, when Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ordered the airline to cease its China passenger operations. The airline then announced a suspension of ticket sales for the China flights until the end of February.

Mahan Air flights also traveled between Iran and China during February.

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization (CAO) spokesman Reza Jafarzadeh said earlier this month that the flights were “absolutely not” commercial and only for humanitarian cargo.

However, “recent Chinese social-media postings suggest Mahan Air has made exceptions to that rule,” reported VOA.

“Hundreds of us want to return to China, and we can’t buy a ticket. How can we return to China?” inquired the user.

A Feb. 29 Mahan Air flight from Guangzhou, China, to Iran did not only include Chinese medics, according to VOA, citing post on Chinese micro-blogging website Sina Weibo by state-run China National Radio.

“Mahan Air flight W580 had the consent of other passengers … for a delay, as they waited for Chinese anti-epidemic medical experts and materials to board the plane,” reported CNR, without specifying the other passengers.

Additionally, the airline responded to a social-media post from a user who asked about travel to China, undercutting its claim that the flights are solely humanitarian.

“Hundreds of us want to return to China, and we can’t buy a ticket. How can we return to China?” inquired the user.

“Hello, sorry for the inconvenience. If you want to charter a flight, please contact Jennifer, the person in charge of the Mahan Air Commerce Department. Her email is Jennifer.shen@iranmahanair.com,” responded the administrator of the Mahan Air account.

Nonetheless, “Mahan Air’s website did not show any tickets available for flights to Tehran from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou or Shenzhen through May 1. China’s popular Qunar.com travel platform also did not have any ticket listings for such flights,” reported VOA.

Moreover, Mahan Air’s solely active route to Western Europe lately has been to Barcelona, despite Spain having the third-highest number of coronavirus cases, with 20,410, as of Friday, while China has the highest with 81,250, and Iran has the fifth-highest with 19,644.

“A Mahan Air press release posted on its Chinese digital platforms on March 4 said the airline had decided to extend its suspension of Iran-China passenger routes until March 31,” reported VOA.

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