March 24, 2020 / 8:09 PM / 15 days ago

UPDATE 1-South African Airways to suspend all domestic flights as lockdown looms

(Adds details, background)

JOHANNESBURG, March 24 (Reuters) - South African Airways (SAA) said on Tuesday it will suspend all its domestic flights from Friday until April 16 in support of a national lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a 21-day lockdown from midnight on Thursday in an address to the nation on Monday, as the number of confirmed cases jumped by 128 to 402. On Tuesday the number climbed by another 152 to 554.

“SAA supports this national effort as announced by the government, to retard, contain, manage and disrupt the rate of transmission of the COVID-19,” the state-owned airline said in a statement.

SAA said its call centres would not operate for the duration of the lockdown, and it would give customers one free travel change for travel between Tuesday and Thursday.

SAA, which has been in bankruptcy protection since December, had already suspended intercontinental and African regional flights until the end of May.

Another struggling state-owned airline, SA Express, suspended its operations last Wednesday.

The aviation company Comair on Tuesday suspended all flights for its franchise partner British Airways and the kulula.com low-cost airline from Thursday until April 19, while budget airline FlySafair suspended its flights until April 20.

SAA has not made a profit since 2011 and has received more than 20 billion rand ($1.2 billion) in bailouts in the past three years. (Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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