Postcards from Asian airports as coronavirus tightens its grip

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - From Beijing to Jakarta, many usually bustling Asian airports have become eerily empty and quiet as coronavirus tightens its grip over the region where the outbreak first began late last year.

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Airline staff looking more like surgeons in their face masks and other protective gear shepherd trickles of passengers toward sparsely populated, and well-disinfected, departure lounges. Many flights have been canceled.

At Beijing International Airport, passengers arriving to check in for flights are greeted with the message: “Please keep one meter away from each other while queueing.”

In January, passenger numbers through this airport fell more than 15% from the previous year to 7.295 million. February’s figures are expected to be worse.

Tokyo’s huge Haneda airport has a similar deserted feel.

In March last year, over 1.6 million people passed through this airport, but this month relatively few passengers cross its gleaming floors or visit its bars and restaurants.

Passengers using Seoul’s Incheon Airport also faced no tiresome wait to check in for their flights.

Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport, which mainly serves overseas routes to Japan and China, had no international flights on Thursday for the first time in 40 years, local media said. Nobody at the airport was immediately available to confirm the reports.

More normal scenes prevailed at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, Singapore’s Changi Airport and Sydney Airport on Thursday, though many passengers queuing to board their flights wore face masks.

Airports in Europe and beyond are likely to increasingly resemble those in South Korea and Japan in coming weeks.

U.S. President Donald Trump ordered travel from Europe to the United States restricted for 30 days to contain the spread of coronavirus, a move that has battered global airline stocks and thrown the travel plans of thousands of people into confusion.

Writing by Karishma Singh; Editing by Gareth Jones