Airlines cut China flights as firms halt travel on virus fears

Facebook, HSBC, Goldman Sachs and LG Electronics are also among the companies restricting travel to and from China.

A passenger waits to board a plane at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, 02 December 2018 (issued 03 December 2018). EPA-EFE/ROMAN PILIPEY
US, South Korean, Canadian and German airlines have suspended flights to China as a new coronavirus outbreak claims more lives [File: Roman Pilipey/EPA]

Scheduled carriers, including United Airlines and British Airways, have said they are cancelling flights to China as demand fell sharply and global companies told their employees not to travel due to deepening fears over the spread of a flu-like virus.

The new coronavirus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan has killed at least 132 people in China and spread across the world, rattling financial markets.

The United States warned that Americans should reconsider visiting China, while the United Kingdom advised against all but essential travel to mainland China. South Korea also advised its citizens to stay away.

Chicago-based United Airlines said it was suspending 24 US flights to Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai between February 1 and February 8 due to a significant drop in demand.

British Airways has suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China after the UK’s warning., the airline’s website, showed no direct flights to China available in January and February.

“We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” BA said in a statement to Reuters news agency on Wednesday. “Customers due to travel to or from China in the coming days can find more information on”

Airlines were not the only companies imposing restrictions.

Facebook Inc became the first significant US company to announce a travel suspension after the US government’s warning, saying it had asked employees to halt non-essential travel to mainland China and to work from home if they had travelled there.

Europe’s biggest bank, HSBC Holdings PLC, banned all staff travel to Chinese-ruled Hong Kong for two weeks and mainland China until further notice, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters.

The UK-based lender, which has the largest presence among foreign banks in China, also asked staff who have recently visited the country to undergo a self-imposed 14-day quarantine. The virus has an incubation period of up to 14 days.

US rival Goldman Sachs Group Inc imposed similar measures, according to a memo seen by Reuters.

In South Korea, home appliances maker LG Electronics Inc put a complete ban on travel to China and has advised employees on business trips in the country to return home as quickly as possible, a company spokeswoman said.

South Korean chipmaker SK Hynix Inc said it was urging employees to avoid all non-essential travel to China, while banking group Standard Chartered PLC restricted travel to mainland China and Hong Kong.

In Germany, auto supplier Webasto, which has 11 sites in China, including in Wuhan, has halted all corporate travel to and from China after an employee was infected.

Japan’s Honda Motor Co Ltd said it recommended employees to avoid travel to China, while Nissan Motor Co Ltd said it plans to evacuate its Japanese staff and their families in Wuhan via a government-chartered flight.

Toyota Motors Corp said it would halt operations in China until February 9, having already restricted travel to Hubei province, based on the guidelines from Japan’s foreign ministry.

‘Falling travel demand’

Aside from United Airlines and British Airways, other carriers said they were also adjusting schedules as companies reassessed the risk of travel to China.

South Korean budget carrier Air Seoul said it will halt all flights to China, while Taiwan’s China Airlines Ltd rescheduled and cancelled some flights to China until February 10.

Taiwan’s Eva Airways Corp also said some flights to China may be cancelled.

Air Canada said it was cancelling some of its 33 weekly flights to China and Germany’s Lufthansa pointed to subdued bookings to and from the country.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd said it would be progressively reducing capacity to and from mainland China by 50 percent or more from January 30 to the end of March, in line with a government directive as well as market demand.

International SOS, a medical and travel security services firm that advises companies on travel, said its guidance, for now, was that business travel to China outside Wuhan’s province of Hubei could continue.

But this could be updated if there were significant flight cancellations throughout China and more disruptions to ground transport, International SOS Regional Security Director James Robertson said.

Source: Reuters