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Coronavirus: Emirates airline to suspend almost all passenger flights

The company is to continue cargo flights while keeping employees on at reduced salaries
A photo taken on 2 March 2020 shows medical equipment and coronavirus testing kits provided by the World Health Organisation passing by an Emirates airline Airbus (AFP)

Emirates airline will suspend most passenger flights from 25 March over coronavirus fears.

"By Wednesday 25 March, although we will still operate cargo flights, which remain busy, Emirates will have temporarily suspended all its passenger operations," the airline's chairman and CEO, Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al-Maktoum, said in a statement.

Hours later, Emirates modified its decision to suspend all passenger flights, saying it had "received requests from governments and customers to support the repatriation of travellers", and would continue to operate passenger flights to 13 destinations, down from its usual 159.

Emirates said it would continue to fly to the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Australia, South Africa, the United States and Canada.

"We continue to watch the situation closely, and as soon as things allow, we will reinstate our services," the airline's chairman added.

Emirates is the world's biggest long-haul airline.

The United Arab Emirates on Friday announced its first two deaths from the Covid-19 disease, having reported 153 infections so far, of which 38 people have recovered.

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Maktoum said that, until January this year, the Emirates Group was "doing well" against current financial year targets, but "Covid-19 has brought all that to a sudden and painful halt over the past six weeks."

He added: "The world has literally gone into quarantine due to the Covid-19 outbreak." 

The airline also said it will slash the basic salaries - by between 25 and 50 percent - of a majority of employees for three months, but will not cut jobs.

"Rather than ask employees to leave the business, we chose to implement a temporary basic salary cut as we want to protect our workforce," said Maktoum. "We want to avoid cutting jobs."

The disease first emerged in China in late December and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation earlier this month.

Gulf countries have imposed various restrictions to combat the spread of the virus, particularly in the air transport sector.

The UAE has stopped granting visas on arrival and forbidden foreigners who are legal residents but are outside the country from returning.