A deadly new coronavirus has prompted South Korean airlines to suspend more than half of their flight services to China, industry sources said Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, industry leader Korean Air Lines Co. and seven other carriers have temporarily suspended 57 out of their 100 routes to the neighboring country due to the coronavirus scare.
The airlines have also decided to reduce flights on 24 routes to Chinese cities, including the capital Beijing.
Korean Air, the country‘s national flag carrier, has decided to suspend 20 out of its 31 Chinese routes, while sharply cutting flights on eight routes.
No. 2 industry player Asiana Airlines Inc. has suspended six routes and reduced flights on 15 routes.
Three South Korean low-cost carriers -- Air Seoul Inc., Eastar Jet and Jin Air -- have suspended a combined 11 routes to China.
Another budget carrier, Air Busan Co., has decided to suspend seven out of its nine routes to China, while reducing flights on one route. Jeju Air has suspended all seven routes to China temporarily, with T’way halting all six routes.
The flight disruptions come amid mounting concerns over the potentially deadly virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
South Korea has 16 confirmed cases of the virus so far, while China‘s death toll has reached more than 420.
On Tuesday, South Korea imposed a temporary ban on the entry of foreigners who have traveled to Hubei Province over the past two weeks in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Seoul is also looking at raising its travel alert level to a “withdrawal recommendation” for all of mainland China. Currently, South Korea has a withdrawal recommendation, the second highest in its four-tier travel warning system, only for Hubei province.
In light of that, industry watchers said, South Korean airlines may further suspend or reduce their flights to Chinese cities down the road.
Calling for government support for the struggling industry, airline officials feared that the industry may suffer more damage from the new coronavirus crisis than from the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003. (Yonhap)