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Coronavirus: BA suspends China flights as evacuation race begins

By Marianne Curphey

Unicef steps up medical support as death toll in outbreak rises to 132, travellers face fortnight's quarantine

British Airways has suspended all direct flights to and from China as the number of people who have died from the coronavirus rose to 132.

Although the airline is still operating flights to Hong Kong, there will be no direct flights to China in January or February. Officially, the airline has said flights remain suspended until the end of January while it assesses the situation.

The move follows travel advice from the Foreign Office telling UK citizens to avoid travelling to China. Diplomatic efforts are being stepped up by a number of countries, including Britain, to evacuate their citizens.

The US, Germany, Japan, Australia and Turkey are evacuating their citizens from Wuhan, which is at the epicentre of the new virus outbreak. Along with the UK, all plan to quarantine the evacuees for a fortnight as a precautionary measure.

Unicef announced it was shipping supplies to China to help with the medical mission there, including face masks and protective clothing, as the number of confirmed cases grows to almost 6,000 and the first case has been detected in the United Arab Emirates.

Researchers in Melbourne, Australia, were working on an antibody test which would enable medics to diagnose the coronavirus quickly and efficiently.

Overnight, Hong Kong’s stock market reopened after having been closed since last Thursday for Lunar New Year celebrations. The Hang Seng stock market fell by 3 per cent as traders and investors sold off amid fears that the effects of the coronavirus could be much worse than the SARS outbreak in 2003. China’s Shanghai Composite remains closed, as do many offices and factories around the country in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) repeated that it was confident China can contain the coronavirus.

In the West, European stock markets continued their gentle rebound after Monday's panicked sell-off. The FTSE 100 index opened 0.15 per cent up and the CAC 40 was up 0.27 per cent while the DAX was broadly unchanged.

Tajinder Dhillon, senior research analyst at Refinitiv, said that as the coronavirus outbreak continues, Chinese and global airline stock prices have been negatively affected.

"Chinese airlines have seen a 13.9 per cent drop in value since the beginning of January compared to arise of 11.8 per cent this time last year. This also makes January 2020 the worst month for global and Chinese airlines since May 2019.”

FURTHER READING: Investors go bargain hunting despite coronavirus fears

FURTHER READING: Facebook and other major companies restrict business trips to China

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