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Hong Kong’s flagship carrier Cathay Pacific Airways has stated that it expects a decrease in profits after it cancelled two flights for every five in February and March due to the coronavirus Covid-19 outbreak.

The airline previously asked 27,000 employees to take unpaid leave to decrease costs as it potentially faces months of disruption ahead.

It has cancelled 30% of its flights before the announcement. The airline’s traffic in January decreased by 3.1% compared with last year.

Cathay Pacific chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said: “This was the most challenging Chinese New Year period we have experienced.

“As the novel coronavirus outbreak in mainland China intensified towards the end of the holiday period, travel demand dropped substantially.”

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Passenger cancellations were due to different travel bans by other countries.

Lam added: “For February and March, we have now reduced our overall passenger flight capacity by approximately 40%, representing further reduction since our recent announcement.

“Passenger capacity reduction is also likely for April as we continue to monitor and match market demand. Meanwhile, we have kept our freighter capacity intact.”

The epidemic has so far killed 1,873 people and infected more than 73,300 people.