United just slashed its flights to Japan and other parts of Asia, showing how quickly coronavirus fears are hurting new airline and travel markets outside of China

japan coronavirus

Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

People in protective face masks stand near a machine measuring body temperature at a convention hall in Tokyo, Japan, on February 27, 2020.

  • United Airlines said it will significantly reduce its capacity to Japan, Singapore, and South Korea due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
  • Japan has, over just a few days, become the latest hotspot of the virus. Officials said this week that all schools would be closed for a month to try and contain the outbreak.
  • The outbreak - and its perceived severity - puts Japan's booming tourism industry - and the 2020 summer Olympic games in Tokyo - at risk.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

United Airlines said on Friday that it was significantly reducing its capacity to Asia as the novel coronavirus continues to spread around the region and the rest of the world.

As part of the reduction, the airline suspended several routes to Japan through April 24, reduced frequency on several other Japan routes, and assigned smaller planes to the routes than normal, reflecting plummeting demand to the country.
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United also reduced frequency of flights to Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan, and extended its cancellation of all flights to mainland China and Hong Kong until April 30 - a week later than previously planned.

"We will stay in close contact with the CDC and other health organizations as we continue to evaluate our schedule," a United spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The cancellations come as Japan has suddenly found itself as the latest major hotspot of the current outbreak, with at least 933 cases reported as of Friday, and 11 deaths. Officials have come under criticism for an alleged poor response to the looming outbreak, including what has been described as the "completely inadequate" quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
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Earlier this week, Japanese officials announced that the country's schools would close for a month in an effort to halt the spread of the disease.

Japanese officials are eager to contain the virus in order to facilitate the 2020 summer Olympics, which Tokyo is slated to host in July.An uncontained outbreak in Japan would risk hurting the country's tourism industry, which saw the number of foreign tourists more than triple over the 2010s. About 31.8 million people visited the country in 2019.
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United operates flights to Tokyo and Osaka from Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, Washington, DC, and Honolulu. The airline also operates a joint venture with All Nippon Airways, or ANA, the largest airline in Japan by revenue and total passengers.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced airlines to suspend routes to China and Hong Kong as customer demand has plummeted. Outbreaks in South Korea and now Japan have forced similar moves.

Airline stocks have fallen dramatically over the past week of trading, and the International Air Transport Association, the principal industry trade group, warned that it could be the worst year for airlines since the Great Recession.
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The full details of United's latest schedule cuts to Asia are below:

  • LAX/IAH-NRT cancelled March 8-April 24
  • ORD-NRT cancelled March 8-March 27, then switches to ORD-HND on March 28
  • HND schedule not affected (daily SFO-HND and starting March 28 daily ORD, LAX, IAD, EWR)
  • EWR-NRT reduction to 5x weekly for April (from daily)
  • HNL-NRT downgauged from 777-200 to 787-8 for April
  • SFO-KIX reduction to 5x weekly in April (from daily)
  • SFO-SIN reduction to 1x daily for March 8-April 24 (from 2x daily)
  • SFO-ICN reduction to 3x weekly for March 8-April 30 (from 1x daily in March and 2x daily in April)
  • SFO-TPE downgauged from 777-300 to 787-9 for March and April
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