Emirates Image Credit: File photo

Dubai: Emirates Group has started to feel the brunt of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 with a “measurable slowdown” in business, and has offered staff the option of taking paid or unpaid leave.

On Sunday, an Emirates spokesperson told Gulf News: “We can confirm the email was sent to our employees around unpaid leave. Point to note – the leave we are asking employees to take is voluntary. It is at the employee’s discretion if they want to take it or not.”

The internal email was sent out recently to all Emirates staff, which includes more than 21,000 cabin crew and 4,000 pilots, according to a Reuters report.

“A particular challenge for us right now is dealing with the impact of the COVID-19. We’ve seen a measurable slowdown in business across our brands, and a need for flexibility in the way we work,” said the email, which was quoted in Reuters. The email also encouraged staff who have “accrued a significant balance of annual leave” to take paid leave.

Emirates Group said it was also offering unpaid leave to employees in non-operational roles, and may extend the option to operational staff.

Last week, more than 25,000 Cathay Pacific Airways staff agreed to take unpaid leave, according to an internal memo from CEO Augustus Tang, in which he thanked employees for their support as the airline contends with the impact of the coronavirus.

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The outbreak of the coronavirus also caused Emirates to cancel all flights to China, with the exception of Beijing, in addition to stopping flights to Iran. Iran is the epicentre of coronavirus in the Middle East, with 43 dead and 593 infected.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, flights between Dubai and China were on a record high. Statistics from last year’s DXB traffic report confirmed that 3,681,896 customers from mainland China and Hong Kong travelled through the airport in 2019, representing a five per cent year-on-year increase.

Additionally in 2019, two new Chinese destinations were introduced by China Eastern - Qingdao in June and Xi’an in August – adding to the existing routes to total around 90 weekly flights to 13 destinations on six airlines (Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Sichuan, Cathay Pacific, and Emirates).

Umrah passengers affected

Emirates airline said it would no longer carry to Saudi Arabia passengers with Umrah pilgrimage visas or tourists from nearly two dozen countries until further notice, in compliance with a Saudi government directive to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

As of February 27, holders of Saudi tourist visas travelling from China, Japan, Italy, Iran, India, Pakistan and a number of other countries were barred from boarding Emirates flights with Saudi Arabia as the final destination.

Stock markets in the Gulf took a dip at the start of trading Sunday over fears of the impact of the coronavirus, which also battered global bourses last week. All of the seven bourses in the GCC were hit as oil prices dropped below $50 a barrel.