Singapore: The suspension of flights to China by global airlines due to the coronavirus epidemic resulted in Asian refining margins for jet fuel in January showing their biggest monthly decline in a more than a decade.

Refining margins or cracks for jet fuel dropped 34% in January, their biggest monthly drop according to data going back to as far as April 2009, Refinitiv Eikon showed.

Cracks for the aviation fuel, which closed at $9.61 a barrel over Dubai crude on Friday, have shed 17% in the last week alone, the Refinitiv data showed.

The death toll from the coronavirus, which originated from Chinese city of Wuhan, has risen to 361 and has spread to more than two dozen other countries, while the World Health Organisation has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.

“Currently in China, travel tours (both domestic and international) have all been suspended. Major flight routes might be maintained to cater to remaining demand but airlines will likely reduce flight frequencies to save cost. This will impact jet demand significantly,” said Sandy Kwa, analyst at energy consultancy FGE.

“Keeping a conservative outlook, the Wuhan coronavirus will heavily dampen air travel in the near future, but should gradually recover in the summer holiday travel period, barring any worsening of the virus outbreak or radical changes in government policies.” The health scare became heightened over Lunar New Year, a peak travelling season in large parts of Asia, but this year passengers were forced to call off travel plans and airlines offered refunds.

During the 2002-2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) — also caused by a coronavirus that originated in China that killed nearly 800 people globally — air passenger demand in Asia plunged 45%.

At present, the travel industry is even more reliant on Chinese travellers.