AirAsia CEO 'bullish' on beating Omicron

AirAsia CEO 'bullish' on beating Omicron

AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes shares his views during Bangkok Post’s International Forum 2021 dubbed “Unleashing the Future: A Glimpse into 2022 and Beyond” on Thursday. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)
AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes shares his views during Bangkok Post’s International Forum 2021 dubbed “Unleashing the Future: A Glimpse into 2022 and Beyond” on Thursday. (Photo: Varuth Hirunyatheb)

AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes has urged governments to stop “overreacting” to the emergence of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 and focus on reducing the cost of PCR testing instead.

“It’s a huge overreaction. We don’t know anything about this variant yet. Let’s wait and see before we jump the gun,” Mr Fernandes said at a virtual address at Bangkok Post’s International Forum 2021 dubbed “Unleashing the Future: A Glimpse into 2022 and Beyond” on Thursday.

The chief executive of the low-cost carrier said the world is more equipped and better prepared to deal with Omicron — first detected in South Africa — than previous strains.

“There are Merck pills, and Pfizer pills are coming out. We are vaccinated. There are boosters available. I’m feeling much more bullish, and I am not doom and gloom,” he said.

“Governments need to use common sense and see what is needed. I think travel restrictions and [such measures] are temporary, and the world is global. No matter how much we close the borders, the viruses will travel.”

He criticised the pricing and frequency of the PCR tests required by many governments, including Thailand, when travellers enter their borders. He said this risks deterring passengers from taking a vacation despite the pent-up demand to venture overseas.

“No government has looked at the cost of the PCR test. PCR tests in Southeast Asia are extremely [expensive]. It’s unfair for passengers to pay that kind of cost. Of course, we want to be safe, but make it as simple as possible.”

He praised Thailand for planning to reduce some of these charges and procedures.

“Thailand is ahead of the rest of Asean, which are still quite draconian," he said, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

"In Malaysia, we have a seven-day quarantine. It’s a start. At least we are opening up borders, but there’s a long way to go before we get to where we used to be."

As for AirAsia's operations and outlook for 2022, Mr Fernandes said he had restructured the company and pivoted to more digital businesses.

So far, the low-cost carrier has launched three logistics businesses — a food delivery super-app, online bank BigPay, and parcel delivery service Teleport. The company has no plans to cut routes yet, it said.

The group CEO was optimistic about the future of the aviation industry. He said he expects low-cost carriers to bounce back faster than full-service airlines as most passengers prefer to travel short distances. Moreover, business travellers are getting used to attending meetings virtually instead of in person, he said.

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