Cathay Pacific has said it will allow all frontline staff, including flight attendants, to wear disposable surgical face masks at their discretion in response to the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak. Up until now, the Hong Kong-based airline had only permitted the use of the masks on flights to and from Wuhan, and then to all mainland Chinese destinations.
The decision by Cathay Pacific to authorise the use of face masks follows confirmation from the Hong Kong government that the first case of the virus had been detected in the territory. A man had arrived on the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link at around 8pm on Tuesday with signs of a fever.
The man is now being held in quarantine at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the city. According to officials quoted by the Hong Kong Free Press, authorities are creating two quarantine camps in lightly populated areas of the territory should the virus spread.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, a spokesperson for Cathay Pacific said they were continuing to monitor the evolving situation closely.
“Due to the evolving information from health authorities, we will allow crew members and front-line airport employees to wear surgical face masks when on duty at their discretion,” the spokesperson explained.
“As required by the Hong Kong health authorities, we are now distributing health declaration forms and will be making face masks and antiseptic wipes available at the boarding gate to passengers travelling from Wuhan to Hong Kong,” the statement continued.
Yesterday, the Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Association warned of potentially “catastrophic” consequences if their members were not allowed to wear face masks on all flights.
“It will be too late and too painful for all of us and the Company (Cathay Pacific) to wait until one of our own is infected,” a memo from the flight attendants association warned
“The damage caused will be catastrophic. We hereby urge the Company to put their employees’ and passengers’ health as a top priority and allow all Cabin Crew to wear masks inflight.”
At present, the Hong Kong government is not suggesting citizens should wear surgical face masks in day-to-day life but official advice does suggest they can help prevent infection when used properly.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is expected to meet in the next few hours where a decision will be taken as to whether or not to declare a global health emergency.
So far, nine people have died from the Coronavirus and at least 500 have been infected. Last night, the first case of the virus was confirmed in the United States and other cases have been detected in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea.
Chinese health officials say the virus can be spread from human to human and that it has the potential to mutate.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently used by some of the biggest names in journalism.