Share prices in the three main European alliance carriers have fallen sharply in early trading, apparently in response to increasing concerns over the international spread of the coronavirus.

While major European stock indices – including those in Germany, France, the Benelux states and the UK – slipped by around 3-4% as markets opened on 24 February, the impact on the airline stocks has been more substantial.

Budget airlines, which rely heavily on short-haul operations within Europe, seemed to be affected particularly hard. EasyJet was down by more than 12% and Ryanair by over 10%, with Wizz Air stock falling 8.5%.

Air France-KLM’s stock dropped by more than 9% and that of Scandinavia’s SAS fell by 8.5%.

Lufthansa Group’s share price similarly fell by nearly 8% while that for British Airways and Iberia parent IAG declined by more than 7%. Leisure company TUI Group has similarly suffered with stock down 8%.

The spread of the coronavirus to European territories, particularly Italy, appears to have contributed to investors’ agitation.

Italy’s government has approved new legislation introducing “urgent” actions, it says, to address the spread of the Covid-19 strain.

The measures include “all appropriate containment measures” – including cutting off access – for municipalities in which the source of transmission is undetermined. The government detailed the decree on 23 February.

Its defensive measures also limit the risk of spread by suspending demonstrations, events, and other public gatherings, closure of non-essential public facilities and services, such as museums, and quarantine of individuals who have come into contact with infected people.

European health commissioner Stella Kyriakides says the situation in Italy has been followed “very closely”.

While the number of coronavirus cases in the European Union is still low, she says: “These rapid developments over the past days confirm that the situation can change very quickly.”

Daily contacts at technical level are taking place with the Italian authorities, the Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the World Health Organization’s European arm to discuss the evolving situation.

“We have asked the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to update their risk assessment to take into consideration the developing situation in Italy and possible scenarios and actions that need to be taken in view of this,” says Kyriakides.