Qantas cancels more international flights as coronavirus spreads rapidly

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Qantas Airways Ltd QAN.AX said on Friday it would cut more international capacity this month as it grapples with falling demand due to an escalation in the coronavirus outbreak in countries beyond China.

The latest cuts to destinations including Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka, Hong Kong and Auckland are on top of its grounding the equivalent of 18 planes as it cut international and domestic capacity last month.

“The coronavirus situation and its impact on international travel demand is evolving and we’re monitoring closely,” the Australian airline said in a statement on Friday.

“Further changes are expected.”

Australia has recorded 60 cases of infection and two elderly people have died from the virus. Globally, the virus has spread to more than 60 countries. Almost 91,000 have been infected and over 3,000 have died, most of them in China.

With the virus spreading rapidly, international tourist bookings to Australia plunged by 56% over the last month, the country’s tourism minister, Simon Birmingham, said on radio.

The country also ordered its first school closure after a 16-year-old pupil tested positive for the coronavirus.

Qantas' loss-making domestic rival Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd VAH.AX is holding meetings and calls with debt investors on Friday to discuss its recent interim results, a Virgin spokesman said, following a report in The Australian Financial Review there were concerns over falls in its bond prices.

Virgin has no immediate plans to lower capacity beyond domestic and international cuts announced last month but is continuing to monitor demand and will make more adjustments if needed, the spokesman said.

Air New Zealand Ltd AIR.NZ and Singapore Airlines Ltd SIAL.SI this week also announced further capacity cuts than initially planned as the epidemic spreads to more countries.

Airlines could lose $63 billion to $113 billion in revenue for passenger traffic globally in 2020, depending on how the coronavirus spreads, International Air Transport Association said on Thursday.

Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Himani Sarkar