Air Canada today says it will gradually suspend most international flights by 31 March in response to the coronavirus pandemic while maintaining a few routes to help Canadian citizens repatriate and continue essential cargo deliveries.

US president Donald Trump and Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau have announced plans to temporarily close their national borders to non-essential travel. As Canada’s largest airline, the Montreal-based flag carrier aims to work within travel restrictions issued by governments through April to continue operating a small number of international routes including across the US border from select Canadian cities.

Air Canada intends to continue to operate a limited number of international ‘air bridges’ between one or more of its Canadian hubs and the cities of London, Paris, Frankfurt, Delhi, Tokyo and Hong Kong from April 1 until at least April 30,” the carrier says in a statement. “This will reduce its international network from 101 airports to six.”

Air Canada by 1 April plans to reduce its transborder network with the USA from 53 airports to 13, depending on further reductions based on demand or government edicts.

The airline will operate “a significantly reduced network” after March but says it aims to continue serving all provinces and territories of Canada. Air Canada intends to reduce its domestic network from 62 airports to 40 through April.

Safety is the priority, Air Canada chief executive Calin Rovinescu says in a statement, while adding that travel restrictions imposed by governments worldwide “are nonetheless having a cataclysmic effect upon the global airline industry”.

“We are working around the clock to deal with the impact for our customers and our business of the various travel restrictions that are being made by governments at unprecedented speed without advance warning,” Rovinescu says.

Like many of its peers, the flag carrier has withdrawn earnings guidance for 2020 and 2021, and suspended 50% of its capacity for the second quarter