Cathay Pacific has told flight attendants that they can choose to wear face masks to protect themselves against the spread of measles as cases of the highly contagious virus spike to a five-year high at the airline’s hub in Hong Kong. So far this year, there have been at least five recorded cases of measles including a Cathay Pacific pilot who was allowed to continue flying despite still being in the contagious phase of having the virus.
The airline has faced scrutiny from regulators and lawmakers for its decision to allow the pilot back to work. Officials say the pilot operated flights between Hong Kong and Singapore, Bangkok and Manila. He only sought treatment after four days of incubating the disease and in that time a flight attendant who flew the same route was also infected with measles.
With the majority of cases occurring at or near Hong Kong International Airport, the city’s Department of Health set up an additional vaccination booth so that airport and airline workers could get themselves immunized. Cathay Pacific has told pilots and flight attendants to stay at home if they feel unwell but the Flight Attendants Union (FAU) has criticised the airline for not doing enough to protect its member.
The union has been particularly annoyed that the airline said it has secured vaccines for flight attendants only for clinics to deny they had any left.
Earlier today, Cathay Pacific told flight attendants that they can wear face masks onboard flights and at airport’s in order to protect themselves from measles if they are not already immunized against the virus. While there has never been a written rule preventing flight attendants from wearing surgical masks, there was a general expectation that they didn’t because of fears it would scare passengers.
Flight attendants who choose to wear a face mask will have to supply their own (which is easily done in South East Asia) and all flight attendants have been reminded to measure their temperature before leaving for work.
Measles is highly contagious and can be easily passed on simply by being in the same environment as some who has it. It is difficult to initially stop because sufferers will show no symptoms during a 10-14 day incubation period.