Hong Kong Airlines fires 400 workers as coronavirus hits travel firms

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Hong Kong Airlines has been forced to fire 400 of its staff after sales nosedived amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The remaining staff have been ordered to take unpaid leave while the airline weathers the ongoing tourism slump. 

Passenger demand was already low as people shirked the embattled city-state which has been in the grip of violent anti-government protests.  

The firm’s economic woes were further compounded by the coronavirus, which has infected 24 and killed one in Hong Kong since it spawned in Wuhan, China, late last year.

Travel to neighbouring countries – especially the Chinese mainland – is tightly restricted and several governments have enforced a flight freeze to prevent the spread of the killer bug.

Hong Kong Airlines said in a statement today the firm had to take ‘vigorous measures’ to mitigate its challenges.

The company said it will lay off 400 employees, with the remainder asked to take a minimum of two weeks no-pay leave per month or work three days a week from February 17 until the end of June.

‘There has never been a more challenging time in Hong Kong Airlines’ history as of now,’ the company said in an email statement.

‘As uncertainty looms with the evolving nature of this global issue, weak travel demand will likely continue into the summer season and we need to take further action to stay afloat.’

The airline is owned by struggling Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which has been looking to lower its debt burden.

In November it announced it would delay salary payments to some staff as it struggled to find cash, triggering a warning from regulators that its licence might be at risk. 

While it managed to keep flying thanks to an injection of funds, it continues to struggle.

The coronavirus, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, spread over the Lunar New Year holiday and has now killed more than 600 people in the country, with at least 31,000 infected.

The crisis has seen a number of governments around the world and in Asia block flights to and from Hong Kong, including popular destinations Taiwan and the Philippines.

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