Australia’s coronavirus response praised amid airline fears

Australia's response to the global coronavirus outbreak was "on the money" but it was a wait-and-see for the airline industry on when it will ever recover from crippling suspensions, Virgin Australia board member Sir Angus Houston said yesterday.

American Airlines became the first major airline to this week announcing it would be extending suspension of flights to China and Hong Kong till the end of April, citing waning demand from passengers fearful of contracting the contagion.

Widespread schedule cuts by other airlines, government imposed travel restrictions and health warnings are expected to have a devastating effect on the air industry and tourism.

Leading air transport data consultancy group OAG has already noted airline seat capacity in and out of China has dropped by two thirds, or more than 1.4 million seats - the most significant ever recorded for a country.

Virgin Australia board member Sir Angus Houston, who said Australia’s response to the global coronavirus outbreak was “on the money.” Picture: Supplied
Virgin Australia board member Sir Angus Houston, who said Australia’s response to the global coronavirus outbreak was “on the money.” Picture: Supplied

 

But Sir Angus, appointed to Virgin Australia's board as non-executive director in 2018, said it was too early to say how badly the broader industry had been affected.

Earlier this month Virgin Australia announced it would cease all services between Australia and Hong Kong citing declining demand in the wake of months of civil protests and "growing uncertainty" over coronavirus.

Virgin Australia is no longer flying to Hong Kong. Picture: Supplied
Virgin Australia is no longer flying to Hong Kong. Picture: Supplied

"I think we will have to wait and see, I think it is a really very serious development the coronavirus, seems to be highly contagious and at this point it's wait and see," he said of the industry.

"We are still flying aircraft around Australia and all the other routes and I believe Qantas is too and we will just have to see how things develop from here.

"Hopefully the steps being taken by authorities in China and the authorities elsewhere in the world will basically keep the thing controllable, it looks like a very serious issue in China but touch wood thus far it's not so much of a problem in other countries and whether it becomes so remains to be seen."

Stewardesses take temperatures of passengers as a preventive measure for the coronavirus on an Air China flight from Melbourne to Beijing on February. 4, 2020. Picture: AP
Stewardesses take temperatures of passengers as a preventive measure for the coronavirus on an Air China flight from Melbourne to Beijing on February. 4, 2020. Picture: AP

He said every airline was watching the contagion emergency unfold closely.

"I think the steps taken by our health authorities thus far are right on the money and I'm sure they will keep abreast of any developments that occur in the near future," Sir Angus, also a former Airservices Australia and RAAF chief said.

On whether mouth masks would be as common as air masks on air passenger travel from here on he said masks were everywhere for various reasons these days and were common place on the streets of Canberra as it battled air pollution from the recent NSW bushfires ash and outback dust.


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