Mideast airlines lose $7B as airports shut to combat virus

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File - In this Thursday, March 5, 2020 file photo, passengers wear protective masks walk in their way to their plane in the departure terminal at the Rafik Hariri International Airport, in Beirut, Lebanon. With thousands of flights grounded around the world due to a fast-spreading virus and seven countries in the Middle East suspending all commercial flights, airlines in the region have lost more than $7 billion in revenue, the aviation industry's largest trade association said Thursday. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

DUBAI – Seven Middle Eastern countries have suspended all commercial flights due to the fast-spreading new coronavirus, as the aviation industry's largest trade association announced Thursday that airlines in the region have already lost more than $7 billion in revenue.

Those losses translate into potentially hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs in the airline industry in the Middle East alone, the International Air Transport Association said.

IATA called for emergency aid of up to $200 billion for airlines globally.

The Middle East has some 20,000 cases of the virus, with most cases in Iran or linked to travel from Iran.

The virus killed another 149 people in the past 24 hours in Iran, pushing the death toll there to 1,284 amid over 18,000 confirmed cases. The government on Thursday joined other countries in ordering all shopping centers closed for two weeks. Only pharmacies, food stores and other necessary supply stores will be open, state media reported.

IATA says 16,000 passenger flights have been cancelled in the Middle East since the end of January.

“A lot of jobs are at risk, economies of the nations are being impacted and airline business in the Middle East is taking a bit hit,” Muhammad Albakri, IATA’s regional vice president for Africa and the Middle East, said in a phone conference with reporters.

Already, major carriers like Emirates have urged pilots and cabin crew to take unpaid leave. Reports have emerged that Qatar Airways laid off several hundred employees. The airline did not immediately respond to a request for comment.