March 12, 2020 / 5:56 PM / 19 days ago

UPDATE 1-Emirates freezes recruitment as airline braces for further coronavirus impact

(Adds recruitment frozen, airline comment on coronavirus challenge)

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI, March 12 (Reuters) - Emirates, one of the world’s biggest international airlines, expects to cancel more flights and has frozen recruitment as it faces what could be its biggest challenge in many years, the coronavirus outbreak, internal emails seen by Reuters showed.

Global airlines have warned of the toll on their businesses from the outbreak that has claimed more than 4,000 lives and seen countries enforce tight travel restrictions.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday described the virus as a pandemic, India suspended entry to most foreigners, and the United States restricted travel from much of continental Europe.

“This most recent challenge looks to be the largest that Emirates and the industry have faced in many years,” the airline said in an email to staff.

Emirates, part of Emirates Group which employed more than 100,000 people at the end of its last financial year in March 2019, has frozen recruitment “across the airline,” it said.

Emirates did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside normal working ours.

“Emirates has already significantly reduced passenger flights for March across our network, and more cuts will likely follow as we review the latest situation,” Emirates Chairman Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed al-Maktoum said in another email.

Passenger demand is under increasing pressure, and the catering, airline and travel business of dnata, an Emirates Group company, is to see “even more substantial drops” as more airlines cut services, he said.

However, Sheikh Ahmed said the cargo business was “doing well”.

The Dubai-based airline has already stopped flights to Italy, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and most of China, although it continues to fly to Beijing and Hong Kong.

Emirates said on Thursday passengers travelling to the United States would now undergo temperature checks immediately prior to boarding and anyone with a higher than normal temperature would have to undergo further tests.

It was not immediately clear why the airline was introducing the measure. Transit passengers are already checked on arrival at Dubai International Airport, though those starting their journey from Dubai are not.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday Europe had failed to take the same precautions as the United States on restricting travel from China and other hotspots, partly blaming the continent for the virus’ spread in the United States.

Some coronavirus cases in China, Australia and New Zealand have been linked to people who have travelled through Dubai, media reports have said.

In a third internal email, Emirates Group said it was strongly advising employees to review any upcoming personal travel plans and to spend any time off in the United Arab Emirates.

Employees who travel to a highly affected country would have to self-isolate for 14 days, which in most cases would be taken out of their annual leave, the email said.

Pilots and cabin crew operating flights from highly affected countries are exempt because of stringent testing procedures, the email said.

The UAE has already said passengers returning from some countries such as China would have to self-isolate for two weeks. (Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Kirsten Donovan Editing by Frances Kerry, Kirsten Donovan)

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