March 20, 2020 / 10:44 PM / 12 days ago

Panama's Copa Airlines cancels all flights as coronavirus crisis spreads

FILE PHOTO: A Copa Airlines employee, wearing a protective mask, works at the airline counter at Tocumen International Airport after the Panamanian government restricted flights in recent days due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Panama City, Panama March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Erick Marciscano

(Reuters) - Panama’s Copa Airlines (CPA.N) on Friday said it will suspend all operations from March 22 until April 21, making it the first Latin American carrier to take such a drastic measure in order to weather the coronavirus crisis.

Air travel in Latin America has become heavily restricted in recent days. Panama and Colombia announced the suspension of all international travel to their countries on Thursday.

The restrictions in the region have left airlines scrambling to sustain their operations and left many passengers stranded without a viable way to get home.

Colombia’s main carrier, Avianca Holdings AVT_p.CN, said on Friday that 5,000 employees, or about a quarter of its workforce, would be taking unpaid leave.

Colombia has canceled all of its international flights and 84% of its domestic flights within Colombia.

Meanwhile, Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, remains the odd country in the region. It has the least restrictive regulations in place on air travel and its infrastructure minister, Tarcisio Freitas, said on Friday that Brazil is not planning to shut down any airports.

Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; Additional reporting by Elida Moreno; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler

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