Coronavirus mayhem: Wuhan city locked down, business travel suspended

Passengers wear protective face masks at the departure hall of the high speed train station in Hong Kong
As China scrambled to contain the novel coronavirus by locking down the city of Wuhan, cancelling Lunar New Year celebrations, businessmen are postponing their trips. China has already ordered all travel agencies to suspend sales of domestic and international tours beginning Friday. Disneyland also announced it was closing indefinitely.

“Bookings to China have drastically fallen. Corporate customers are postponing or cancelling immediate travel after coronavirus cases were confirmed in cities like Beijing,” said Sabina Chopra, co-founder of travel portal has seen a 31 per cent dip in bookings to China, but there have not been immediate cancellations, Balu Ramachandran, senior vice-president, said. 

SOTC Travel is recommending alternative destinations like Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, and Dubai to its customers even as it continues to monitor the situation in China.

Eleven people — seven in Kerala, two in Mumbai and one each in Bengaluru and Hyderabad — who are among hundreds of passengers who returned from China recently are under observation in hospitals to check for possible exposure, central and state officials said on Friday. The All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi has set up an isolation ward and kept beds ready for providing treatment to any suspected case.

According to the Union health ministry, 20,844 passengers from 96 flights have been screened at seven Indian airports in the past few days.  

Air India, IndiGo, Air China, China Southern Airlines, and China Eastern Airlines operate non-stop flights between India and China. Carriers are waiving penalties for cancellation of tickets to China for travel till February 24. Meanwhile, oil slipped below $62 a barrel on Friday.

It is headed for 5.7 per cent loss this week on concern the virus may spread further, curbing travel and oil demand, overshadowing supply cuts. China is the world’s second-largest oil consumer so any slowdown in travel would show up on demand forecasts.

According to aviation sources, over 460,000 passengers flew between the two countries in the 12 months to October 2019 (this figure excludes those who travelled by road or ferry from Hong Kong to China).  Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Beijing airports account for around 75 per cent of the traffic in China. Around 10,000 passengers travelled between Wuhan and India during the same period.

Travel between India and China is dominated by the business segment and largely focused in eastern cities of Guangzhou and Shanghai.
Jyoti Mayal, president of Travel Agents Association of India, said there would be impact on bookings if the crisis continues for a few weeks. “Leisure travel season will begin from April. Our customers are in wait and watch mode, but we have not received any cancellations yet,” she said.

Udit Mehta, executive vice-president of International SOS, a medical and travel security services firm, said his firm was advising members to defer all travel to Wuhan and other cities in the Hubei province until further notice. “Travel to the rest of China can continue with flexible itineraries, accounting for additional time required for health and temperature,” he said.

The economic impact of the health scare is not restricted to the impact it brings to the travel industry as Chinese splurge on luxury goods. Chinese tourists, the biggest source of outbound travellers worldwide, spent $130 billion overseas in 2018.

The first case of coronavirus was reported in Wuhan in December and, since then, it has spread to other cities of China and the world. Over 800 cases have been reported globally including in Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Japan and the US. Airports around the world are screening passengers to contain the outbreak.  “No coronavirus case has been detected. However, three persons have been put under observation,” the ministry said. It has also written to states to review and strengthen measures at airports for provision of isolation and critical care facilities.

Gold jumped to a more than two-week high on Friday as the latest updates on the coronavirus dented risk sentiment, and prompted a flight into safe-haven assets.

In a statement, IndiGo said: “We are aware of the situation of coronavirus in China and are offering waivers cancellation/change fee (fare difference applicable) for all travels to and from China from January 24 to February 24. At present, our flight schedule is unaffected.” 
With inputs from Agencies

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