Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ has suspended flights to and from Guangzhou, China following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that has so far claimed at least 213 lives.
In a statement on Friday morning, the national carrier said the decision was reached after consultations with the government.
“Further to our communication regarding the current coronavirus outbreak, we have taken a decision to temporarily suspend all flights to and from Guangzhou starting Friday, January 31, 2020, until further notice,” KQ said in a brief statement.
The airline will, however, continue flying to Bangkok, Thailand, where 14 cases have been detected but no fatalities.
“Our consultation with the Ministry of Health and Foreign Affairs will continue and we will provide updates as the situation develops,” the airline said.
The move comes just hours after its workers, through the lobby Kenya Aviation Workers Union (Kawu), threatened to lead its members in boycotting work “if KQ does not stop flying to China in the next three days”.
Kawu secretary-general Moss Ndiema argued that it was wrong for the airline to “bury its head in the sand” by adopting a business-as-usual stand at the expense of exposing the lives of its workers to the deadly disease.
The airline’s acting chief executive Allan Kilavuka had on Wednesday said that the carrier would not suspend flights to China and that it was still monitoring the situation and would take action as soon as there’s imminent danger.
The announcement came even as British Airways suspended flights to Beijing and Shanghai after the UK government advised against non-essential travel to China.
A number of airlines have also stopped flying to China including Virgin Atlantic, Germany’s Lufthansa, Air France and KLM SA.
In the region, RwandAir has also suspended flights on its Kigali-Guangzhou route, the airline said in a statement on Friday. “The decision will be reviewed later in February.”
Tanzania announced Wednesday that it has postponed its maiden Air Tanzania flight to China, which was scheduled for February, citing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
In a memo sent to KQ staff on Friday, and seen by the Business Daily, Mr Kilavuka assured employees that their safety and security was a priority.
“We appreciate that during the last few days we have had some anxious moments because we continued to fly to and from China. We thank all our staff who have operated and supported our operations on our flights,” he said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus a global emergency as confirmed cases rose on Friday to 9,692 according to Chinese health authorities. Some 129 cases have been detected in 20 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, North America and the Middle East.
The novel strain of coronavirus emerged at a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province where the first death was reported on January 11.