South Korea's T'Way Air halts launch of Wuhan flights over virus concerns

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korean budget airline T'way Air 091810.KS has postponed Tuesday's scheduled launch of a new route to the Chinese city of Wuhan because of rising concern over the spread of a new coronavirus, a company official said.

On Monday South Korea reported its first confirmed case of the virus from a 35-year-old Chinese national who flew from Wuhan to Seoul on Sunday.

T’way had been set for the first of its twice-a-week flights from the South Korean main hub of Incheon to Wuhan at 1020 p.m. (1320 GMT) but canceled its plans because of the outbreak, the company official said.

“It was an inevitable decision because of the situation there,” the official told Reuters, adding that it would continue to monitor developments.

The move came amid spiraling fears over the virus, which could be spread through human contact, with millions of Asians traveling for the Lunar New Year holiday this week. In China, the number of confirmed cases rose to 291 on Monday.

An official at Korean Air Lines 003490.KS, the only other South Korean airline operating direct flights to Wuhan, said the company had no plans to suspend its route, which operates four times a week, but will waive ticket cancellation fees for passengers traveling to the city.

South Korea’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday warned tourists against contact with animals and people showing respiratory symptoms and market visits in China.

President Moon Jae-in instructed local authorities to step up prevention efforts, with many South Koreans living in China expected to return home and some 32 million traveling around the country for the holiday until next week.

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by David Goodman and Louise Heavens