Slovakia has shut down three of its major international airports for at least two weeks in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus. Bratislava, Kosice and Poprad airports all shut down this morning and will remain closed until the 27th of March.
Closure of the airports
Slovakia has become the latest country to impose strict travel sanctions by closing three airports. All international operations ceased at 07:00 this morning and will not start up again until the end of March. One airline which serves Bratislava airport, Wizz Air, has said it will not operate into the country until at least the 3rd of April. Wizz Air operates 22% of the airport’s weekly capacity.
Bratislava airport is also served by Ryanair which has 67% of the airport’s weekly capacity, Flydubai, Smartwings and Pobeda. Over two million passengers pass through Bratislava airport each year. Another of the closed airports, Kosice has said that it expects over 60 services will be affected. This includes flights by LOT, Eurowings and Austrian Airlines.
In a statement on its website, Bratislava airport said the closure of the airport is “in accordance with the fulfilling of the resolution of the government of the Slovak Republic relating to the statement of [an] emergency situation”. It asks all passengers to check directly with their specific airline for refunds, reschedules and updates.
The Slovakian government has also said it will introduce temporary border controls as well as restrictions movements by rail and bus to minimize the spread of the virus. It is also closing schools, bars and clubs and will impose a mandatory quarantine on anyone entering the country. Currently, there are 21 confirmed cases of the virus out of 5.4 million people.
Slovakia isn’t the only nation in Eastern Europe to take drastic measures to stop the virus. The Czech Republic has also closed its borders while Lithuania and Latvia have banned public gatherings.
The Czech Republic is also placing bans on cross-border journeys by boat, bus or train and has restricted international travel to Prague’s Vaclav Havel Airport. Lithuania will begin banning flights to and from Italy starting on Monday.
A bit of bad timing
For Slovakia’s main Bratislava airport, the forced closure due has come just a few weeks too early. The airport was due to close in spring anyway for what it calls a “facelift” for its runways and taxi-ways. The airport will perform minor upgrades and maintenance after the harsh winter months.
Normally, these do not cause huge disruption for the airlines. However, this year the airport was due to close completely for more major works. The airport will close during the nights between the 13th and 20th of April and will close completely from the 21st of April until the 1st of May.
Bratislava airport has two intersecting runways which were built in the 40s and 50s. They were then reconstructed in the 80s with a lifespan of approximately 30 years. As such, both runways now require major maintenance which the airport will do over the course of four consecutive years.
If the airport reopens at the end of March only to close a few weeks later, this could be a big blow. Perhaps the airport will be able to scramble together the resources it needs to complete the maintenance work before the end of March to avoid more disruption.