SYDNEY: Australia’s biggest airline Qantas said on Thursday (Mar 18) it will halt all international flights later this month, after the island nation’s other main carrier Virgin shut its overseas services due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Qantas said all of its international flights would be suspended by late March for at least two months after the government told citizens Wednesday to forego all overseas travel in a bid to halt the spread of novel coronavirus.

READ: Australia to isolate all international arrivals to tackle COVID-19

“The efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus have led to a huge drop in travel demand, the likes of which we have never seen before,” Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said, adding that the airline would suspend 20,000 of its 30,000 staff during the shutdown.

The move also affected Qantas’ budget offshoot, Jetstar.

Qantas already announced earlier this week a 90 per cent cut in overseas flights while Virgin Australia grounded its entire international fleet.

Qantas is maintaining 60 per cent of its domestic flights and Virgin Australia 50 per cent.

Australia has reported more than 700 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the increase in infections accelerating daily. There have been six deaths.

READ: State of emergency: Australia steps up efforts to curtail coronavirus

Officials say the majority of new cases involve people arriving from overseas or those who have been in contact with them.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an unprecedented decision to advise all Australians to forego foreign travel.

He has also ordered a halt to all cruise ship activity into and out of the country, banned outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people and indoor groups of more than 100.

But he stopped short of ordering the kind of lockdown seen in some pandemic hotspots or closing the nation’s schools.

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