Qantas will suspend flights from Australia to China from Feb 9. (Reuters photo)

Vietnam has suspended all China flights as part of “strengthening measures” against the coronavirus outbreak, its civil aviation authority said on Saturday.

The directive applies to all airlines “which have routes between Vietnam and China” and is effective immediately, it added.

National carrier Vietnam Airlines and the budget airline Jetstar Pacific said they would stop flying to mainland China as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan.

An AFP correspondent on a flight from Taiwan to Vietnam was among 98 passengers told to disembark just as the announcement went public.

“The decision is ridiculous and unacceptable,” Vietnamese tourist Doan Thi Ngoc Diep told AFP after leaving the plane.

Vietnam is the latest country to impose extraordinary travel barriers after the virus spread to two dozen nations and killed 259 people in China.

The United States has temporarily barred entry to foreigners who had been in China within the past two weeks and Australia said it was barring entry to non-citizens arriving from China.

Italy, Singapore and Mongolia have also taken similar sweeping precautions.

In Australia, Qantas Airways said it would suspend its two direct flight routes to mainland China from Feb 9 in response to travel restrictions imposed by some countries.

The national carrier’s direct flights from Sydney to Beijing and Sydney to Shanghai will be halted until March 29, it said on Saturday.

Cebu Air, the Philippines’ largest budget carrier, said it would halt all China flights from Sunday. The suspensions will last until March 29.

They join a growing list of airlines worldwide that have been suspending or reducing services in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

Delta Air Lines and American Airlines have become the first US carriers to suspend all flights to China. Delta said its suspension would last from Feb 6 through April 30, while American has halted flights from Saturday until March 27.

Earlier, the Air Line Pilots Association secured agreements with United Airlines and Delta to allow pilots to decline to fly to China if they have concerns about travelling there, according to union representatives.

All US-bound flights coming from China will be routed to one of seven airports in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Honolulu and Los Angeles.

European carriers including British Airways and Air France had already halted flights to China.

In other developments on Saturday:

Vietnam reported its sixth confirmed infection, a 25-year-old female hotel receptionist who had contact with two Chinese men who tested positive for the virus, according to the health ministry.

Authorities in the south-central province of Quang Ngai ordered industrial parks to place about 300 Chinese workers under a 14-day quarantine and test them for the virus, the VnExpress news website reported.

Indonesia will evacuate 245 of its nationals living in Wuhan and other towns in Hubei province, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said. They have undergone tests and been declared free of coronavirus, she said.

The Hong Kong government has found 49 people from Hubei after searching about 500 hotels, and will send them to quarantine centres or help them leave the city, according to Sophia Chan, secretary for food and health. About 30 of them have either left or plan to depart Hong Kong, she said.

China will require those returning to Hubei to get approval from local prevention bureaus first, according to the provincial government’s official WeChat account.

South Korea confirmed another case of coronavirus, bringing the total there to 12.

The country evacuated 333 citizens from Wuhan in a second charter flight that landed in Seoul on Saturday. About seven of those on the flight showed symptoms associated with the virus and were sent to hospital, the report said.

In the United States, the government has put about 200 US citizens repatriated from Wuhan under legal quarantine at March Air Reserve Base in Southern California. The group includes State Department personnel, family members, children and other Americans. It’s the first time such a policy has been used in the US since the 1960s, when a quarantine order was issued to stop the spread of smallpox.

The economic impact of the health crisis is expected to be substantial, with one report predicting automobile output will fall by 32%. Plant closings that last into mid-March would cut production by 1.7 million cars, the research group IHS Markit said.

Expectations were already bleak as the year began, with the firm predicting a 10% drop in first-quarter output.

The potential hit in lost global growth could total US$160 billion, according to Warwick McKibbin, a professor of economics at Australian National University. The effect of this outbreak could be three to four times larger than the blow from Sars.


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