Qantas shares slumped to just $3.58 on Thursday afternoon – less than half their value three months ago.
The dramatic fall began minutes after US President Donald Trump announced an unprecedented ban of flights from mainland Europe to the US, which had knock-on effects for the aviation industry.
The news, which blindsided major carriers, also caused Virgin Australia shares to bottom out at less than 5 cents. A month ago they were trading at 14 cents.
At midday AEDT, President Trump said the US would ban all flights from mainland Europe for 30 days.
Speaking from the Oval Office, President Trump said the coronavirus restrictions would come into effect from midnight on Friday, but wouldn’t include the UK.
The news came shortly after 23 American states declared a state of emergency, including Washington DC, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana and Arkansas.
An hour after the announcement, President Trump appeared to correct himself, by stating that the ban wouldn’t apply to US legal permanent residents, citizens and some of their family members, and also not on cargo.
It was also then announced the ban would only apply to countries in the so-called Schengen Area that have abolished passport and border controls. Those countries are: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
The latest figures show the disease has now infected 115,800 people, including 1,000 in the US, and killed more than 4,200 worldwide.
Minutes before the address, actor Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson confirmed on Instagram that they had coronavirus, becoming the most high-profile victims of the illness.
Addressing the American public on television, President Trump said, “We will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight. These restrictions will be adjusted subject to conditions on the ground.”
He said the nation’s “speed and professionalism” meant it was winning the war to combat the virus.
President Trump added, “I’m confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we’ll ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.
“From the beginning of time, nations and people have faced unforeseen challenges including large scale and very dangerous health threats. This is the way it always was and always will be. It only matters how you respond and we are responding with great speed and professionalism.”
At the close of trading, Qantas finished at $3.64 and Virgin at $0.06. In total, the ASX closed down 7.36%, representing a loss of more than $100 billion.
On Tuesday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce announced he would give up his salary for the remainder of the financial year after the larger group announced capacity cuts equivalent to grounding 38 aircraft.
The airline also confirmed rumours that all but two Airbus A380s won’t fly, with eight taken out of service due to reduced demand and two undergoing maintenance.
Qantas said the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus crisis meant it would not issue guidance on earnings for the remainder of FY20.
Joyce said, “We’re in a good position to ride this out, but we need to take steps to maintain this strength. We want to avoid job losses wherever possible. Annual management bonuses have been set to zero and the group executive team will take a significant pay cut.”