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Airlines across the globe suspended more flights to China as governments clamped down on travel to help stop the spread of the deadly Wuhan virus.
British Airways halted daily routes to Beijing and Shanghai from London’s Heathrow airport, after U.K. officials advised against non-essential travel. The U.K. flag carrier, a unit of IAG SA, said it would reassess over the next few days. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. said it would cut capacity to China by 50% or more starting Thursday.
Other European and North American airlines adjusted their schedules as well:
Delta Air Lines Inc.: Cutting service to China in half to 21 flights a week, from Feb. 6 through April 30Deutsche Lufthansa AG: Suspending service to China until Feb. 9American Airlines Group Inc.: Suspending flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai and Beijing from Feb. 9 through March 27United Airlines Holdings Inc.: Reducing service to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.Air France-KLM’s Dutch unit: Suspending direct flights to Chengdu and Hangzhou as of Thursday, reducing number of weekly flights to Shanghai to seven from 11 times a week; Suspending direct flights to Xiamen as of Jan. 30Air Canada: Suspending flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Jan. 30 until Feb. 29IAG’s Iberia: Suspending flights to Shanghai from Friday through February
The changes come amid stepped-up efforts by authorities to stop the spread of the virus, which started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. With clusters cropping up in countries such as Germany, airlines placed other Chinese destinations off limits. Oil traders dumped contracts for jet fuel in anticipation of an extended slowdown.
Almost 9% of flights scheduled to or from China were scrapped between Jan. 23 and Jan. 27, according to research from Cirium, which analyzes air travel.
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Government restrictions in China hit during the Lunar New Year holiday, when millions of people typically head home to see loved ones. Domestic travel in China fell 7.4% between Jan. 10 and Jan. 28, People’s Daily reported, citing the Ministry of Transport.
Several South Korean carriers halted flights to Chinese cities, including Asiana Airlines Inc., Jeju Air Co. and Jin Air Co. Meanwhile, Finnair Oyj, Lion Air in Indonesia, Jetstar Airways’ Singapore operations and Air Macau Co. took similar steps.
The number of confirmed cases in China soared to 5,974 -- overtaking the country’s official count of SARS patients -- while 132 people were reported to have died of the coronavirus.
When SARS became a global epidemic, it hit the industry hard initially but the effect was fleeting, said Jozsef Varadi, chief executive officer of Wizz Air Holdings Plc.
“It fell like a stone in the first month but then it started recovering and after four months everything went back to normal,” Varadi said on an earnings conference call Wednesday. “Probably this is going to be a better controlled issue so I wouldn’t expect the same impact as from SARS.”
China Southern Airlines Co. could face the largest blow among the country’s “big three” carriers as it controls 30% of Wuhan’s seat capacity, with routes to and from the capital of Hubei province accounting for 3.6% of its seats, said Bloomberg Intelligence analysts James Teo and Chris Muckensturm. That compares with 1.5% for Air China Ltd., which is also vulnerable, the analysts wrote in a report.
Wuhan’s airport, which was largely closed on Jan. 23, handles about 25 million passengers a year.
Passenger traffic at airlines such as Cathay and China Southern plunged 32% to 37% in the first half of 2003 because of the SARS pandemic, Teo and Muckensturm added. This time, “international airports’ swift implementation of preventative measures can help blunt the impact,” they said.
China Southern shares fell as much as 6.7% as trading resumed in Hong Kong following the Lunar New Year break, while Air China slid 5.5% and China Eastern Airlines Co. dropped as much as 7.7%.
(Updates wiith Delta, Air Canada in bulleted list)
--With assistance from John Lauerman, Charlotte Ryan, Mary Schlangenstein, Joost Akkermans and Macarena Munoz.
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