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Coronavirus

Japan-China flights cut 30% due to virus, with Osaka hit hard

Reductions by ANA and JAL jeopardize country's goal of 40m tourists in 2020

The Tsutenkaku tower, an Osaka landmark, stands over the Shinsekai shopping and dining district. (Photo by Konosuke Urata)

TOKYO -- Flights between China and Japan already are down by nearly one-third this month as airlines cut service in response to the coronavirus outbreak, with Osaka and Nagoya hardest hit by the drop in travel.

Scheduled round-trip flights between the two countries have fallen to 1,114 a week, down more than 30% from initial plans for 1,623, according to Japan's transport ministry. The figure is on the verge of slipping below 1,000 for the first time since 2015.

Japan's economy will suffer damage due to the decline in tourism and business travel from China, the biggest source in terms of both visitors and money spent. The only question is how big a blow the virus will deliver.

At the Osaka area's Kansai Airport, Japan-China flights have decreased about 40% to around 370 a week. The western Japan hub was hit hard because the numerous Chinese airlines that serve it canceled their flights. Osaka was reportedly the second-most popular destination after Bangkok for Chinese travelling abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chubu Airport near Nagoya has seen a roughly 50% drop to about 100 flights.

The decline has been smaller at the Tokyo area's Narita Airport, where flights are down to about 300 a week from initial plans for about 360.

Service cuts continue as the outbreak that began in the central Chinese city of Wuhan spreads and the death toll rises. All Nippon Airways on Tuesday announced halts to flights between Narita and Beijing and other routes. The ANA Holdings unit will offer 144 flights a week to China, down from 165.

Japan Airlines is reducing its weekly Chinese flight count to 43 from 98, halting service to several destinations including Beijing from Feb. 17 to March 28.

The outbreak puts Japan's goal of reaching 40 million foreign visitors this year in jeopardy. Mainland Chinese residents accounted for 9.59 million, or about 30%, of last year's 31.88 million visitors. They spent around 1.77 trillion yen ($16.2 billion), or nearly 40% of the total.

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