Qatar Airways CEO calls Covid-19 “fear factor” as country closes

Due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, the state of Qatar announced it would ban non-Qataris from entering the country for at least two weeks starting from March 18, 2020. Meanwhile, the CEO of the country’s flag carrier Qatar Airways has described Covid-19 spread as “fear factor”, highlighting operational challenges that airlines face due to some measures to contain the spread.

Qatar halts incoming flights as coronavirus cases increase

Starting from March 18, only Qatari citizens will be allowed to enter the country. Exceptions apply to cargo and transit flights. After the initial period of two weeks, the ban, which is part of the country’s measures to contain the virus spread, will be reviewed. 

In response to the news, the state’s national carrier, Qatar Airways, said it would continue to operate its network for transit passengers as normal. 

“Passengers with onward connections through HIA [Hamad International Airport, DOH – ed. note] will be accepted for travel and Qatar Airways’ global network will continue its operation for transit passengers as normal,” a notice by the airline reads. “Cargo operations remain unaffected.”

Since mid-2017, the State of Qatar has been under economic and diplomatic boycott by neighboring countries. Saudi Arabia and its regional allies cut ties with the state, accusing it of funding terrorist groups ‒ a charge Doha denies.

As of March 15, 2020, the World Health Organization estimated there were 153,517 confirmed Covid-19 cases globally. In the State of Qatar, there were 337 cases, of which 75 were recorded within the previous day. 

Qatar Airways CEO calls Covid-19 “fear factor” 

While Qatar Airways claimed that passengers “from all destinations” could still travel with the airline and transit through Hamad International Airport,  the global coronavirus (Covid-19) spread concerns have forced it to cut several routes. Qatar Airways’ flights amendments and cancellations mainly affect China, Hong Kong, Iran, South Korea, Egypt, Italy, and Kuwait. 

Meanwhile, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker made headlines when he questioned the extent to which Covid-19 could be spread during the incubation period, calling it a fear factor instead. 

“During the incubation period, they say that this virus still can be transmitted. There is no scientific evidence for that,” Al Baker told reporters. “ So it is just a fear factor. You don’t block aviation just because there is something in the air but it’s really not a scientific fact.” 

Al Baker has also emphasized the impact of some coronavirus prevention measures on airline operations. “Whoever goes into China can not now go anywhere else in these countries for the next 14 days. They don’t realize the operational impact this would create on an airline. Suppose there was a pilot that for some technical glitch was rostered to go on a flight to Australia, United States, Singapore. The aircraft will get stuck with all the passengers.”

“What evidence you have that on every single aeroplane you don’t have three or four people with contagious disease sitting next to you?”

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