Ryanair boss says swine flu only a risk for ‘slumdwellers’

The outspoken head of the Irish budget airline Ryanair has dismissed apocalyptic warnings of a global swine flu pandemic, saying that the virus was only a risk to Asians and Mexicans “living in slums”.

Michael O’Leary, who pioneered the 1p fares which transformed European aviation, told a press conference that he did not think the virus that is thought to have killed around 150 people in Mexico would wipe out his firm’s business this summer despite UN warnings of a pandemic.

“Are we going to die from swine flu? No. Are we in danger of SARS? No. Foot and mouth disease? No. Will it affect people flying short-haul flights around Europe this summer? Thankfully, no,” Mr O’Leary said.

He added: “It is a tragedy only for people living … in slums in Asia or Mexico. But will the honeymoon couple from Edinburgh die? No. A couple of Strepsils will do the job.”

So far only two swine flu cases have been confirmed in Britain, a couple who returned from their honeymoon in Cancun last week and took ill at the weekend. Iain and Dawn Askham of Polmont, near Falkirk in Scotland, are said to be responding well to treatment with anti-viral drugs at an isolation ward in Lanarkshire.

Curiously, there have been no deaths from the virus outside Mexico and doctors have been unable to explain the high level of mortality in the country.

Mr O’Leary has been accused by his critics of doing anything for publicity and recently caused an uproar by suggesting that Ryanair might charge passengers to use toilets on its flights. The airline does not operate flights to Mexico.