Cathay Pacific says it faces 'substantial loss' due to virus

Cathay Pacific Airways, one of Hong Kong's most prominent businesses, is warning it faces a “substantial loss” in the first half of this year due to the coronavirus outbreak after last year’s profit fell amid anti-government protests

The Chinese territory's main airline canceled 90% of its flight capacity to the mainland at the start of February after Beijing told the public to avoid travel as part of efforts to contain the outbreak centered on the city of Wuhan.

“We expect to incur a substantial loss for the first half of 2020,” chairman Patrick Healy said in a statement. “We expect our passenger business to be under severe pressure this year and that our cargo business will continue to face headwinds.”

2019 profit fell 27.9% from the previous year to 1.7 billion Hong Kong dollars ($218 million), the airline reported. Revenue declined 3.7% to 107 billion Hong Kong dollars ($13.8 billion).

2020 was expected to be “extremely challenging financially” after tourist arrivals in Hong Kong fell amid protests that began in June over a proposed extradition law and expanded to include other grievances, said Healy.

That was worsened by the “significant negative impact” of the virus, Healy said.

Its cargo business also was hurt by a U.S.-Chinese tariff war that depressed trade.

The airline has asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave between March 1 and June 30.