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Air Canada 'closely monitoring' coronavirus developments as WHO meets

Air Canada Boeing 787 airplane at Munich airport (MUC) in Germany. (Getty Images)

Air Canada says it is closely monitoring developments regarding the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, as well as decisions from public groups such as the World Health Organization, which is meeting Wednesday to discuss the spreading virus.

Air Canada said in a statement this week that it will take direction on how to handle such a public health matter from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and global health experts such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The World Health Organization is convening an emergency committee meeting on Wednesday to discuss the recent outbreak of the coronavirus in China that appears to have spread to the United States.

The CDC confirmed the first U.S. case of coronavirus in the state of Washington on Tuesday. The patient had recently returned from Wuhan, China, where the outbreak of the virus was first reported last month.

While the virus was first thought to have been spread from animal-to-person, the CDC said “there are growing indications that limited person-to-person spread is happening.”

“It is unclear how easily the virus is spreading between people,” the CDC said in a news release Tuesday.

“The confirmation that some limited person-to-person spread with this virus is occurring in Asia raises the level of concern about this virus, but CDC continues to believe the risk of (coronavirus) to the American public at large remains low at this time.”

North American airline stocks fell on Tuesday following increasing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, as well as Boeing’s announcement that its grounded 737 Max jet would not be returning to service until mid-2020. Both Air Canada and WestJet have taken the aircraft out of their schedules through late June. Air Canada is the only Canadian airline that operates flights to China.

While airline stocks were not the only ones under pressure on Tuesday, Capital Economics analyst Oliver Jones wrote the slides in global markets that were triggered by coronavirus-related fears were “surprisingly large.”

“History suggests that such events rarely have long-lasting and widespread effects on equities,” Jones wrote.

The virus has been compared to SARS, an outbreak that also originated in China in 2002 that spread to Canada and killed 44.

The SARS outbreak in 2003 led to a decline in tourism in Canada that impacted Air Canada’s international travel demand, the same year the company filed for bankruptcy protection.

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