Qatar Airways CEO doubts existence of coronavirus, says aviation shouldn’t be halted

Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al-Baker, probably the airline industry’s most colorful character, has been known to make controversial comments in the past. (AFP)
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Updated 14 March 2020

Qatar Airways CEO doubts existence of coronavirus, says aviation shouldn’t be halted

  • ‘There is no scientific evidence for that. It is just, you know, a fear factor’

DUBAI: Akbar Al-Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, has doubted the existence of coronavirus currently affecting 126 countries and territories and has infected more than 132,000 individuals.

“During the incubation period, they say that this virus can be transmitted. There is no scientific evidence for that. It is just, you know, a fear factor,” the controversial airline chief said in an interview with Bloomberg, which was aired February 5 but resurfaced recently when it went viral among social media users.

“For them to do what they did to the Chinese cabin crew ... whoever goes to China cannot now go anywhere else in these countries for the next 14 days. They don’t realize the operational impact it would create on an airline,” Baker said.

“What evidence [do] you have that on every single airplane you do not have three or four people with contagious disease sitting next to you?”

Qatar on Wednesday said 238 new coronavirus cases had been discovered among expatriates quarantined in a residential compound, bringing the total to 262.

The Qatar Airways chief, probably the airline industry’s most colorful character, has been known to make controversial comments in the past, including claims that unions “made companies and institutions uncompetitive and bringing them to a position of not being efficient.”

Baker also received flak when he claimed the Doha-based airline’s contracts were not restrictive, particularly against women. Qatar Airways earlier faced accusations its female cabin crew members experienced discrimination, including being banned from marriage during the first five years of their contract and routinely being fired if they became pregnant.


S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

Updated 08 April 2020

S&P cuts Australia’s sovereign outlook, affirms AAA rating

  • S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years
  • Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade

SYDNEY: Global ratings agency S&P on Wednesday lowered its outlook on Australia’s coveted ‘AAA’ rating to “negative” from “stable” in anticipation of a “material” weakening in the government’s debt position as it splashes out a large fiscal stimulus package.
S&P affirmed Australia’s prized rating but said a downgrade was possible within the next two years if the economic damage from the COVID-19 outbreak is more severe or prolonged than it currently expects.
Australia is among a handful of countries in the world to boast the best ranking from all three major ratings agencies.
But it has come under a cloud as the pandemic has dealt Australia a severe economic and fiscal shock, with S&P predicting the A$2 trillion ($1.23 trillion) economy would plunge into recession for the first time in nearly 30 years.
This would cause a “substantial deterioration of the government’s fiscal headroom at the ‘AAA’ rating level,” S&P said in a statement.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the outlook downgrade was “a reminder of the importance of maintaining our commitment to medium term fiscal sustainability.”
The government has pledged A$320 billion ($197.73 billion) in fiscal spending, or 16.4 percent of annual economic output, to backstop the economy and prevent a crisis as the pandemic shuts companies and leaves many unemployed.
Some fund managers said Wednesday’s outlook downgrade was unlikely to raise the government’s borrowing costs by much though it could hurt Australian companies whose ratings are dependent on the sovereign rating.
“A large proportion of credit funds are mandated to maintain funds in a specific ratings bucket,” said Asmita Kulkarni, Director Investment Strategy at FIIG.
“With potential widespread downgrades we could see funds being forced to sell-down investment which would result in a widening of credit spreads.”
Australian long-dated bonds sold off after S&P’s outlook downgrade with 10-year yields jumping to 0.967 percent from 0.909 percent at Tuesday’s close.
Economists said they do not expect a rating downgrade prior to the federal budget due on Oct. 6.
It was only in September 2018 that S&P upgraded Australia’s outlook to “stable” from “negative” as the budget came close to balance. The government had even projected a surplus for the current fiscal year and next.
While all those predictions are now under water, Australia’s public debt is still in good shape, S&P noted.
“While fiscal stimulus measures will soften the blow presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and weigh heavily on public finances in the immediate future, they won’t structurally weaken Australia’s fiscal position,” S&P said.
“This expected improvement is a key supporting factor of our ‘AAA’ rating.”