January 28, 2020 / 1:16 PM / 20 days ago

UPDATE 1-Finnair cancels some China flights as virus fears spread

* China suspends international group travel to control virus

* Death toll hits 106 people

* Airline cancels Beijing, Nanjing flights til end-March (Adding details throughout)

Jan 28 (Reuters) - Finnish airline Finnair said it would suspend its routes to Nanjing and Beijing’s Daxing airport until the end of March, the first European airline to cancel flights to mainland China amid growing fears about the spread of a new flu-like virus.

The move comes after Beijing suspended international group travel from the country as a part of its efforts to control the outbreak of the coronoavirus, the airline said. On Tuesday, the death toll rose to 106 people.

It will affect the airline’s three weekly flights between Finland’s capital Helsinki and the Chinese capital Beijing and two weekly routes to Nanjing in Jiangsu province.

They have a higher proportion of group travelers on them than its other routes.

It estimated that the direct financial impact of group cancellations, ticket refunds and flight cancellations for February will be moderate.

“These cancellations are needed to manage the impacts of the recent suspension of group travel by Chinese authorities, which have a pronounced impact on the load factors of our Beijing Daxing and Nanjing flights,” said Jaakko Schildt, chief operating officer of Finnair.

The airline has become popular with travellers between Europe and Asia because the flight time with a stopover in Helsinki is shorter than layovers in other parts of Europe and the Middle East.

Airlines have been cancelling and adjusting schedules as a growing number of countries raise travel warnings not just to Hubei province where the new coronavirus broke out, but also to the rest of mainland China.

Nanjing is 600 kilometres northeast of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in Hubei province, while Beijing is 1,200 km north of Wuhan. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki, Additional reporting by Tommy Lund, Editing by Louise Heavens and Josephine Mason)

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