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Kuwait Airways to lay off 1,500 foreign employees amid coronavirus losses

State-owned airline says lockdown measures have caused already struggling company 'significant difficulties'
Kuwait Airways was already struggling before the coronavirus pandemic, having seen $435mn in company losses for 2019 (AFP/File photo)

Kuwait Airways announced it will lay off 1,500 foreign workers amid significant financial losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

In a statement released via Twitter on Thursday, the state-owned airline, which employs about 7,000 people, said the layoffs were "in response to the emerging coronavirus crisis and its negative impact" on sales. 

The airline said the layoffs would only affect non-Kuwaiti employees, adding that the cuts were taking place across the company. 

It said the decision comes as part of a "comprehensive plan" to deal with the pandemic's economic impacts, which have caused "significant difficulties".

The carrier was already dealing with a financial crisis before the pandemic began battering airlines around the world, with industry website Flight Global reporting in January company losses for 2019 of $435m. 

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Kuwait, like its oil-rich neighbors in the Gulf, has been severely hit by both a slump in oil revenue and the economic impact of coronavirus, which has grounded almost all Middle East flights.

Recently, only repatriation flights have been in operation, about 200 of them during the past two months to bring home 30,000 Kuwaitis. 

As a state-owned company, Kuwait Airways' losses are covered by the government, which has yet to announce a stimulus plan for the airline industry.

Last month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that the airline industry in the Middle East was likely to see a $19bn (39 percent) loss in revenue. 

The group also warned that the region's aviation shutdown threatened 1.2 million jobs.

Private companies in Kuwait have fired hundreds of employees, but the airline is the first government-run company to take such action.

The Kuwait Municipality has said it would soon sack at least half of its 900 expatriate employees, according to AFP. 

About 3.4 million foreigners live and work in Kuwait, making up 70 percent of the Gulf state's population.

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