A worker cleans the seats in one of Emirates' passenger planes. Image Credit: Screengrab/ Emirates video

Dubai: Emirates airline has confirmed that it is stepping up its aircraft cleaning and is ready to respond to any suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus COVID-19.

“The safety and health of our customers and employees is taken very seriously and we are continuously liaising with international and local health organizations to ensure we are following the most up-to-date medical guidelines and directives,” said Adel Al Redha, Chief Operating Officer, Emirates Airline.

“As an additional measure, we have stepped up aircraft cleaning, and in cases where we are alerted to any suspect or confirmed cases of infectious diseases, we will disinfect all cabins of those aircraft.”

According to news reports from New Zealand, the first confirmed coronavirus patient was a passenger travelling from Tehran to Auckland, and had transited through Dubai.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, Emirates also confirmed that employees have the option to voluntary apply for unpaid leave for up to one month at a time.

The announcement was made following Sunday’s reports of the coronavirus having a dwindling effect on the airline’s business operations, which affected a number of flights paths and cancelled a number of routes, included those to China and Iran.

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Al Redha explained that the outbreak of COVID-19 has also forced some countries to imposed travel restrictions on entry for operating crew and passengers, which resulted in Emirates having to amend its operating schedule by either reducing frequencies or cancelling flights to specific destinations.

“The knock on effect of these operational changes has resulted in more resources than required in certain areas of the business for our day to day requirements. People are at the heart of the Emirates strategy, and it has always been our aim to protect our workforce and limit the impact to their roles during a global crisis and through tough economic conditions,” he said.

“Considering the availability of additional resources and the fact that many employees want to utilise their leave, we have provided our employees the option to avail leave or apply for voluntary unpaid leave for up to one month at a time.”

Al Redha stressed that passengers and customers should practice good hand and health hygiene and follow the World Health Organization (WHO) and health authorities' guidelines.

He pointed out that due to the rapid development and the widespread nature of the outbreak, Emirates has already activated its Crisis Management Centre since January to closely monitor the situation and take decisive action across all areas of its business.

“These measures have included providing medical advice to our staff, implementation of practices at the airport to meet specific country travel requirements as well as adjusting our schedule and amending capacity to meet passenger demand across different regions. While we have seen some slowdown in certain markets there has been high demand in other areas,” he added.