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 500 inches closer to record high

Updated 12 August 2020

S&P 500 inches closer to record high

  • US stock market index returns to levels last seen before the onset of coronavirus crisis

NEW YORK: The S&P 500 on Tuesday closed in on its February record high, returning to levels last seen before the onset of the coronavirus crisis that caused one of Wall Street’s most dramatic crashes in history.

The benchmark index was about half a percent below its peak hit on Feb. 19, when investors started dumping shares in anticipation of what proved to be the biggest slump in the US economy since the Great Depression.

Ultra-low interest rates, trillions of dollars in stimulus and, more recently, a better-than-feared second quarter earnings season have allowed all three of Wall Street’s main indexes to recover.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq has led the charge, boosted by “stay-at-home winners” Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc. and Apple Inc. The index was down about 0.4 percent.

The blue chip Dow surged 1.2 percent, coming within 5 percent of its February peak.

“You’ve got to admit that this is a market that wants to go up, despite tensions between US-China, despite news of the coronavirus not being particularly encouraging,” said Andrea Cicione, a strategist at TS Lombard.

“We’re facing an emergency from the health, economy and employment point of view — the outlook is a lot less rosy. There’s a disconnect between valuation and the actual outlook even though lower rates to some degree justify high valuation.”

Aiding sentiment, President Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had become the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval to a COVID-19 vaccine. But the approval’s speed has concerned some experts as the vaccine still must complete final trials.

Investors are now hoping Republicans and Democrats will resolve their differences and agree on another relief program to support about 30 million unemployed Americans, as the battle with the virus outbreak was far from over with US cases surpassing 5 million last week.

Also in focus are Sino-US tensions ahead of high-stakes trade talks in the coming weekend.

“Certainly the rhetoric from Washington has been negative with regards to China ... there’s plenty of things to worry about, but markets are really focused more on the very easy fiscal and monetary policies at this point,” said Paul Nolte, portfolio manager at Kingsview Asset Management in Chicago.

Financials, energy and industrial sectors, that have lagged the benchmark index this year, provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 on Tuesday.

The S&P 500 was set to rise for the eighth straight session, its longest streak of gains since April 2019.

The S&P 500 was up 15.39 points, or 0.46 percent, at 3,375.86, about 18 points shy of its high of 3,393.52. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 341.41 points, or 1.23 percent, at 28,132.85, and the Nasdaq Composite was down 48.37 points, or 0.44 percent, at 10,919.99.

Royal Caribbean Group jumped 4.6 percent after it hinted at new safety measures aimed at getting sailing going again after months of cancellations. Peers Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. and Carnival Corp. also rose.

US mall owner Simon Property Group Inc. gained 4.1 percent despite posting a disappointing second quarter profit, as its CEO expressed some hope over a recovery in retail as lockdown measures in some regions eased.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners 3.44-to-1 on the NYSE and 1.44-to-1 on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 35 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 50 new highs and four new lows.