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Angered by criticism, airline chief attacks Boris Johnson’s COVID response

Band Allison Lampert

June 7 (Reuters)A senior airline industry official slammed British politicians on Tuesday for criticizing long airport lines and canceling flights as COVID-19 cases eased and in turn beset the Prime Minister’s own response Boris Johnson to the pandemic.

“You look at the UK, Boris Johnson, he highlights one of the reasons why he should continue to be Prime Minister as the way he has handled the pandemic. What a joke. They should have done a lot better” , said Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), at the Paris Air Forum.

Downing Street did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under Johnson, Britain had one of the best vaccination rates among G7 countries and invested billions in a jobs support scheme. However, it also suffered one of the worst death rates and economic impacts.

Johnson survived a confidence vote on Monday.

Earlier this month, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told airlines to stop selling tickets for flights they cannot operate, while Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab recently said to Sky News that carriers should have recruited more. Both men serve in Johnson’s cabinet.

Walsh said airlines could not have recruited staff earlier this year when UK traffic was down and the industry feared potential new measures against COVID-19.

“You have the politicians saying airlines should have gone up sooner. No, they shouldn’t,” Walsh said Tuesday. “The airlines would have gone bankrupt if they had done what those stupid politicians say they should have done.”

A resurgence in air travel led to long queues at some UK airports, as well as Amsterdam, Dublin and Toronto, as airport managers struggled to fill jobs.

Walsh, former British Airways and IAG ICAG.L boss, attributed the congestion to delays in obtaining clearances for airport staff, but said the situation was manageable and limited to certain airports and airlines.

Walsh argued that the aviation should have been more forceful in challenging government-mandated COVID-19 border closures, which he said did little to curb the virus.

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

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