EasyJet says Omicron variant is already affecting bookings

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EasyJet said short-term bookings have weakened since the new Omicron variant was identified amid concerns over travel restrictions, but it still expects passenger numbers to return to near levels before the pandemic by the end of the summer.

The airline reported a pre-tax loss of £ 1.1bn for the year as of September 30, larger than the loss of £ 835m recorded in 2020 but better than analysts had expected.

Johan Lundgren, managing director, said that while “there are still many uncertainties as we go through the winter”, the airline expects to benefit from a rebound.

“We are seeing very strong demand for next summer,” said Lundgren, “because there is very strong pent-up demand. We have more income for next summer than we currently had for summer 2019. ”

Commenting on demand since the appearance of the new variant, easyJet said: “It is too early to say what impact Omicron could have on travel to Europe and any short-term restrictions that could result.

“However, we have prepared for times of uncertainty like these. While we have seen an increase in transfers with some trade slowdown for the first quarter [October to December] it’s really encouraging to see that we still have good levels of new bookings for the second half of the year.

Spring and summer 2022 booking revenue is above 2019 levels. EasyJet said demand was also strong during key periods such as the October semester and for the ski and Christmas holidays. It has increased the number of flights and flies 25 more planes, with plans to return to 70% of its pre-pandemic capacity in the second quarter and to near 2019 levels over the summer.

Lundgren said the UK’s decision to put several southern African countries on the red list of the toughest travel restrictions was an important step. Yet he questioned the costly “general PCR test” for travelers entering the UK, which “once again makes the UK government an outlier” in Europe. The government had only recently changed the requirement for lateral flow testing on Day 2, in time for the mid-term breaks in late October.

The threat posed by the “highly mutated” variant of Omicron shows how the world is “perilous and precarious,” the head of the World Health Organization said on Monday.

Stock markets were down on Tuesday after the CEO of US biotech company Moderna, Stéphane Bancel, said in an interview with the Financial Times that it would take several months before a vaccine specific to Omicron could be produced on a large scale. .

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