Qatar Airways boss appears to question science behind coronavirus

Qatar Airways boss appears to question science behind coronavirus
Qatar Airways boss appears to question science behind coronavirus

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Controversial Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker has again found himself in hot water for appearing to suggest travel restrictions to combat the spread of coronavirus were fearmongering.

Mr Al Baker, who previously sparked outrage for saying that women couldn’t run airlines as it is “a challenging position,” last week questioned the science around the novel coronavirus.

Officially called Covid-19, the virus has infected over 130,000 people around the world and killed 5,000 in what the World Health Organization on Friday described as a “tragic milestone".

“During the incubation period, okay, they say that this virus still can be transmitted. There is no scientific evidence for that. So it is just, you know, a fear factor. You know, you don’t block aviation, you know, just because there is something in the air but it’s really not a scientific fact. I don’t know about it.” Mr Al Baker said in comments broadcast by Bloomberg.

He also claimed that there is no scientific evidence that people were infectious during the incubation period of coronavirus.

The WHO and other global experts do admit there is a lot still to be understood about the new virus and how it spreads, with advice changing rapidly as research understands more.

The US Centre for Disease Control and MIT medical school both point out that while the science is not definitive on transmitting before symptoms, evidence suggests that it is possible or has happened.

A small study of cases in Germany indicated this weekend that people might be most contagious during the first week of the disease, often before they have physical symptoms.

One person in the study tested positive but showed no symptoms while others reported mild coughs. Only two developed a fever.


Encouragingly, the study also suggested that once the body’s antibody response kicks in the numbers of infectious virus cells plummet so that “after about 10 days or so, you’re not likely to be infecting other people,” Ali Khan, dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, told Science News.

The sample was small and therefore will need more studies with larger test groups to build a definitive picture. However, health officials in many countries, including China where the virus started, are working under the assumption that aggressive early testing and isolation is the best tool to combat the spread.

Mr Al Baker also appeared to lament that those bringing in rules that stop staff who have operated flights to areas with large outbreaks from flying to other destinations for 14 days to stop the spread “They don’t realize the operational impact this will would create on an airline.”

Qatar last Wednesday announced 238 new cases of coronavirus, bringing the total number to 262.

Updated: March 14, 2020 12:13 PM

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