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Qatar Airways lays off 200 staff over coronavirus fears as airline asks for aid

Airlines are asking for help [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 March, 2020

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The airline joins many others in limiting and grounding flights to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Qatar Airways has laid off about 200 Filipino staff in Qatar this week as the coronavirus outbreak pushed the airline to cut flights, and the International Air Transport Association pleads for aid. 

Governments must urgently consider providing aid to airlines in the Middle East to help them cope with a liquidity crisis due to the coronavirus outbreak, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said.

IATA Vice-President for Africa and the Middle East Muhammad Albakri said Middle East airlines were facing rising revenue losses as people stopped travelling.

IATA said $200 billion is needed to support airlines worldwide and keep the global industry afloat and is urging the Middle East and Africa to provide emergency support to airlines impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. 

"Stopping the spread of Covid-19 is the top priority of governments. But they must be aware that the public health emergency has now become a catastrophe for economies and for aviation," IATA said in a statement.

"Airlines are fighting for survival. Many routes have been suspended in Africa and the Middle East and airlines have seen demand fall by as much as 60 per cent on remaining ones."

"Millions of jobs are at stake. Airlines need urgent government action if they are to emerge from this in a fit state to help the world recover, once Covid-19 is beaten," said IATA chief executive Alexandre de Juniac.

"With average cash reserves of approximately two months in the region, airlines are facing a liquidity and existential crisis. Support measures are urgently needed. On a global basis, IATA estimates that emergency aid of up to $200bn is required," he added.

Philippine Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello said that the government was trying to work out the "real cause" behind the Qatar Airways' unexpected decision to lay off about 200 Filipino workers.

The layoffs were reported earlier by ABS-CBN.

It said the Filipino employees, including engineers and maintenance staff, were laid off on Tuesday and others had also lost their jobs.

"Our labour attache is under strict instructions to determine what is the real cause of the decision of management to retrench them on the basis of redundancy," he said.

This comes as Qatar banned foreigners from entering the country, with the airline cutting flights to several destinations to stop the spread of the disease, which has infected 442 people in the Gulf Arab state.

Another airline, the UAE-state-owned Emirates has asked pilots and cabin crew to take unpaid leave amidst the coronavirus outbreak, as Qatar Airways laid off 200 staff in Doha this week.

Read More: The Middle East at war with coronavirus

The state-owned airlines have stopped flying dozens of important Gulf routes as the region doubles down on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"You are strongly encouraged to make use of this opportunity to volunteer for additional paid and unpaid leave," an email to pilots said according to Reuters.

There is limited opportunity for unpaid leave for cabin crew who are being encouraged to take paid leave, another email said.

Tourism and aviation are vital to the economy of Dubai, which does not have the vast oil wealth of some of its Gulf neighbours.

Emirates employed over 21,000 cabin crew and 4,000 pilots among more than 100,000 employees overall at the end of March 2019.

The coronavirus epidemic could be the biggest challenge Emirates has confronted in several years, the company reportedly told staff, and has frozen recruitment and cut flights.

The United Arab Emirates also said it would bar entry to foreigners apart from diplomats and residents.

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