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Cathay Pacific cabin crew with mask Image copyright AFP/Getty

Hong Kong's flagship airline Cathay Pacific has asked staff to take three weeks of unpaid leave to help it cope with the impact of the coronavirus.

The carrier had already been hit by the effect on passenger demand of several months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong.

It has offered a voluntary special leave scheme to all employees from 1 March to 30 June.

The airline said that preserving cash was "key to protecting" its business.

On Tuesday, Cathay said it intended to cut services by about 30% over the next two months, including a cut of about 90% in flights to mainland China.

The airline had already been facing difficulties because of anti-government protests in Hong Kong, an international financial and travel hub and a key part of its business.

Analysts said the airline had been likely to offer the unpaid leave scheme to staff because of those issues anyway.

The new coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. The number of cases in China has now exceeded 24,300, with 490 deaths reported.

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  • Sportswear firm Adidas said it was "experiencing a negative impact" on its operations in China and that it had closed a "significant number" of its own stores in the country
  • Danish brewer Carlsberg said there could be a short-term impact in China on the firm as a result of the virus and warned it faced a "more volatile business environment" as the coronavirus outbreak spread
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In a statement, Cathay said: "In view of the Novel Coronavirus outbreak and also significant drop in market demand, we just announced massive capacity cuts yesterday.

"Preserving cash is the key to protecting our business. We have already been taking multiple measures to achieve this.

"Today, we are appealing to all employees to participate in the special leave scheme, which will take effect from 1 March and last until 30 June. All employees will have the option to take three weeks of unpaid leave in this period."

Cathay chief executive Augustus Tang has sent a video message to employees, according to the Reuters news agency.

In it, he said the airline had also asked its suppliers to cut prices, stopped hiring new staff and postponed some major projects and stopped all non-critical spending.

The new coronavirus causes severe acute respiratory infection and symptoms usually start with a fever, followed by a dry cough. The number of cases in China has now exceeded 24,300, with 490 deaths reported.

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