Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary launched a scathing attack on the British government over its handling of the Omicron variant on Thursday while arguing that the unvaccinated should be banned from getting on planes to incentivise more people to get the life-saving COVID-19 vaccines.
In an interview with The Independent, the 60-year-old chief executive of Europe’s largest low-cost airline hit out at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to Omicron, slamming his government over constantly changing travel rules and the reintroduction of expensive PCR tests.
“There is this omicron hysteria in the UK, most of it generated by Downing Street and the government – I suspect to cover up their day-to-day mismanagement of almost every aspect of life,” O’Leary said on the same day the British government reported a record-breaking 88,376 new COVID-19 infections.
Johnson has called on all adult Britons to get booster jabs before the end of the year, placing the country almost on a war footing with the army called in to help in a national effort to get as many people as possible vaccinated with a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The British government initially responded to the Omicron variant by imposing a slew of travel restrictions and although the travel ban Red List was dismantled on Wednesday, pre-departure and post-arrival testing rules, along with mandatory self-isolation remain in force.
“It seems to us that their policies are designed specifically to discourage people from travelling by air, particularly when people are fully vaccinated,” O’Leary said.
“I see no justification for the UK government rules that passengers who’ve already done the sensible thing and got vaccinated now have to take tests before they travel and, more ludicrously, two days after they travel.”
But while O’Leary disagrees with COVID-19 testing for vaccinated passengers, he supports banning the unvaccinated from air travel. Rather than thinking of it as a vaccine mandate, he views such restrictions as an incentive to vaccine uptake.
“I would however support encouraging more and more of the unvaccinated minority to get vaccinated. Instead of introducing mandatory vaccination policies, you have to make it more and more attractive for people to become vaccinated,” he explained.
“So I would support limiting air travel to vaccinated people.”
The British government has so far resisted a vaccine mandate for air travel and countries like Germany that have introduced vaccination rules for airline passengers to still allow COVID-19 testing as an alternative.
Vaccine mandates have proved highly controversial in Europe and led to a series of violent street protests in cities across the continent including in the Austrian capital Vienna where the government plans a general vaccine mandate early next year.