Richard Branson said on March 22 that companies in the Virgin Group empire he founded will invest USD250 million in the coming weeks and months to “protect employees and save jobs” from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

In “the first chance I have had to put my thoughts down on paper” about the ongoing pandemic, Branson wrote in a blog posted on the Virgin website that “because many of our businesses are in industries like travel, leisure, and wellness, they are in a massive battle to survive and save jobs.”

Describing the crisis as the “most significant” during his lifetime, Branson warned that the chances of securing widespread economic recovery would depend on governments mobilising support programmes essential to protecting people’s livelihoods.

Virgin Group itself will be rolling out a series of programmes over the coming months, he added, without elaborating on exactly how the quarter of billion dollars would be spent. Virgin companies employ more than 70,000 people in 35 countries. Beyond Virgin Atlantic, the group also includes a nascent cruise line as well as health clubs and hotels.

“At Virgin Atlantic, we consulted with and listened to our incredible employees, who virtually unanimously decided they would collectively volunteer to take unpaid leave for eight weeks out of the next six and a half months, in order to limit financial hardship for everyone,” he said.

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic will temporarily move all of its London flights to London Heathrow, ending, for now, its presence at London Gatwick, it said in a travel alert on its website.

The last outbound Gatwick flights departed on March 23 to St. Lucia Hewanorra and Grenada and to Bridgetown, and the final inbound flights to Gatwick land on March 24 from the same destinations. From March 24, beginning with flights to Havana Int'l and Antigua, services will operate to/from Terminal 3 at Heathrow.