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By Conor Humphries
DUBLIN (Reuters) -Ryanair on Wednesday more than doubled its annual loss forecast and cut its January traffic estimate by 33%, blaming travel restrictions in France, Germany and Morocco following the emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
But it said it was too soon to say whether similar cuts would be required to its February and March schedules and would wait for further scientific data before making any decisions.
The Irish low-cost airline, Europe's largest by passenger numbers, flew more than twice as many flights within the continent in the second week of December as any other airline, according to Eurocontrol, Europe's air traffic regulator.
But restrictions on British passengers flying to Germany and France - and all EU passengers to Morocco - forced Ryanair to cut its December passenger forecast to a range of 9 to 9.5 million, from 10 to 11 million, a company statement said.
Ryanair plans even deeper cuts in January, reducing its forecast to between 6 and 7 million from 10 million.
Chief Executive Michael O'Leary, one of the most outspoken critics of COVID-19 travel restrictions, last week said the mood in Britain and Ireland in the face of Omicron was one of "panic".
O'Leary has argued that it is impossible to limit the spread of virus variants and that high quality filters on planes make them relatively safe. Many health experts argue that air travel is nevertheless a high-risk activity.
As a result of the cuts, Ryanair, which just last month announced its first quarterly profit since the start of the pandemic, now expects to post a net loss of between 250 million euros ($283 million) and 450 million in the 12 months to the end of March.
That is down from its earlier forecast of a loss of between 100 million and 200 million euros.
"These figures are hugely sensitive to any further positive or negative COVID news flow," the Ryanair statement said.
The airline, which normally employs a strategy of filling its planes irrespective of the discounts needed to fill seats, promised an update when it releases financial results for its third quarter, the three months to the end of December, on Jan. 31.
It now expects to fly just under 100 million passengers in the year to the end of March from an earlier forecast of just over 100 million, it said.
($1 = 0.8834 euros)
(Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by David Holmes and Grant McCool)