The swift spread of online misinformation about coronavirus has not spared the airline industry. Several tweets are reporting that “Qatar Airways CEO doubts the existence of coronavirus”, using a video interview support the claim. A closer look at the context and timing of the video reveals that the claim is misleading.

Content and timing of the video

The video, which has recently resurfaced on social media, was filmed during the CAPA Qatar Aviation conference which took place in Doha on February 5th and 6th, 2020. In the video, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker discusses the impact of coronavirus on the airline industry, answering to Bloomberg’s Simone Foxman.

“During the incubation period, they say that this virus still can be transmitted. There is no scientific evidence for that.”

Akbar Al Baker, interviewed by Bloomberg

Debunking the controversy about Qatar Airways CEO’s claim on coronavirus


“Qatar Airways CEO doubts the existence of coronavirus”

Qatar Airways CEO akbar al baker coronavirus

Nothing in the video interview supports the claim that Qatar Airways CEO doubts the existence of coronavirus. Besides, at the time of the video, Qatar Airways had already announced it would cancel all flights to China, becoming the first Gulf carrier to do so.

“Qatar Airways CEO questions science behind coronavirus”

In the interview, Akbar Al Baker claims that there is no scientific evidence that people are infectious during the incubation period of coronavirus. At the time of the interview, which was February 5th, the scientific community appears to back Akbar Al Baker’s claim. A day before the interview, The Scientist and Science Mag both concluded that there was no evidence to confirm whether or not coronavirus could be transmitted during the incubation period, and that previous report of asymptomatic transmission of 2019-nCoV were “inaccurate” and “flawed”. This explains why the video did not spark any controversy at the time it was released. 

Here is the full video interview:

Coronavirus misinformation

From conspiracy theories to misleading claims around vaccines, misinformation about coronavirus is spreading rapidly around the world, despite efforts by social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook to curb the trend.

Ryanair’s Chief Michael O’Leary has recently condemned the “hysteria” over coronavirus and said social media has lost perspective on the outbreak. Last month, a passenger who wanted to pull a coronavirus prank was arrested and charged for forcing a plane to emergency landing. Recently, in a move that highlights the tension in the industry, Australian airline Qantas suspended a worker for allegedly spreading misinformation about the virus.

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