Ryanair has notified passengers by email that it was reducing its short haul flights to and from Italy, from across Europe, by up to 25% for a three week period from Tuesday, March 17 to Wednesday, April 8, in response to the Covid-19 virus.

The airline said that over the past week, Ryanair has seen a significant drop in bookings for late March/early April period.

There has also been a significant step up in passenger no-shows on flights, particularly from and within Italy.

Ryanair said it does not expect these cancellations to have a material impact on its current year guidance, but it is far too early to speculate what impact the Covid-19 outbreak will have on its full year earnings. 

It said it will continue to monitor bookings carefully, and will continue to flex its schedules in response to this developing situation.

The airline said it is working closely with relevant authorities and is following all guidelines provided by WHO and EASA to ensure the health and wellbeing of our people and our customers.

A daily Covid-19 action meeting across all areas of the airline has been initiated since February 24, and is focusing on maintaining operational efficiency and cost saving to address the current downturn in business caused by coronavirus.

Ryanair said it expects that Covid-19 will result in further EU airline failures over the coming weeks.

 "Our focus at this time is on minimising any risk to our people and our passengers," Ryanair Group CEO Michael O'Leary said.

"While we are heavily booked over the next two weeks, there has been a notable drop in forward bookings towards the end of March, into early April. It makes sense to selectively prune our schedule to and from those airports where travel has been most affected by the Covid-19 outbreak," he said.

Mr O'Leary said this is a time for calm.

"We will make sensible cuts to our schedules over the comings weeks to reflect weaker bookings, and changing travel patterns. All affected customers will be advised of any schedule changes at least 14 days in advance. While 80% of people who contract Covid-19 suffer only mild symptoms, the risk of infection can be significantly reduced by frequent hand washing with soap and water."

He said the company will continue to comply fully with guidelines from National Governments, the WHO and EASA as they are updated on a regular basis.

"We will update the market in due course on any significant developments"," he added.