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Wuhan Coronavirus: European Airlines Not Following Cathay Pacific, Allowing Cabin Crew to Wear Face Masks

Wuhan Coronavirus: European Airlines Not Following Cathay Pacific, Allowing Cabin Crew to Wear Face Masks

Major European and North American airlines have not followed in the lead of Cathay Pacific and Taiwan’s China Airlines who both said they would allow cabin crew to wear disposable face masks on all flights to protect them from airborne viruses.  A number of airlines say they are closely monitoring the Wuhan Coronavirus outbreak and will follow official advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and their own national authorities.

Earlier today, Chinese officials said the death toll from the virus had risen to 25 and that at least 616 people had been infected.  Cases have been detected in South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the United States, Japan and Thailand, although the only deaths have been reported on the Chinese mainland.

Yesterday, Cathay Pacific announced it would start allowing cabin crew to wear face masks at their discretion on all flights.  The decision followed a demand from the flight attendants union who warned of potentially “catastrophic” consequences if a crew member was to be infected with the novel coronavirus which is known as 2019-nCoV.

Photo Credit: Reuters

Cathay Pacific was forced to deny a rumour circulating on Thursday that several members of Cathay Dragon cabin crew experiencing flu-like symptoms had been hospitalised after operating a flight to Wuhan.  The airline labelled the rumour as “fake news”.

But despite the measures introduced by Cathay Pacific, like many European airlines Finnair will not be following their lead.  Instead, a spokesperson for the airline said it was currently “collecting and analyzing information in collaboration with the authorities.”

“At the moment, we are not giving any specific guidelines to our crew on the use of face masks,” the spokesperson continued.

Instead, the spokesperson said Finnair had special procedures to deal with a suspected infectious disease and that all aircraft are equipped with a so-called Infection Kit with hygiene equipment and operating instructions.

“If a passenger is suspected of being infected with a dangerous disease, the passenger will be seated as far as possible from other passengers and will be asked to wear protective equipment. Also, when possible, one toilet will be provided to his/her use. In addition, the number of crew dealing with the patient is reduced to one, and the crew member will be properly protected,” the airline told us.

[Since making this statement, Finnair has decided to allow cabin crew to wear face masks at their discretion.  The decision apparently followed backlash from Hong Kong-based crew who accused the airline of putting their safety at risk].
Photo Credit: KLM

A spokesperson for Dutch carrier KLM made a similar point, saying that no specific measures or recommendations were being made but that it’s always a good idea to maintain good personal hygiene and to wash hands frequently.  Again, KLM said it was monitoring the situation closely and was in contact with the authorities.

Both British Airways and Lufthansa declined to comment but sources have confirmed that both airlines do not permit their flight attendants to wear surgical face masks or wear other protection unless they are dealing with a suspected infectious disease – In which case, they have the same hygiene kits as Finnair.

Meanwhile, an Air France Airbus A330 landed in Wuhan on Thursday morning as scheduled despite city officials imposing a partial lockdown.  Cathay Dragon will suspend flights to the city starting tomorrow and other airlines are expected to follow suit.

In North America, the likes of United Airlines have taken a similar approach to its European counterparts despite the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) calling on airlines to “instigate emergency measures immediately.”  A spokesperson would not be drawn on whether they would like flight attendants to have the option of wearing face masks at all times but official guidance from the union call for an adequate supply of medical gloves and face masks on all flights.

AFA is demanding that flight attendants have the right to wear disposable gloves at any time “without any discriminatory or disciplinary actions being taken against them” and that a Universal Precaution Kit is loaded on every flight for every flight attendant on duty.

“We will continue to press airlines for action on this as we work to keep aviation’s first responders, our counterparts in the flight deck, and our passengers safe and healthy,” read a statement released by the union on Tuesday.

Closer to the epicentre of the outbreak, Singapore Airlines says it will give face masks to flight attendants working on flights to “affected stations”.  Inflight announcements regarding the coronavirus will be made on all outbound and inbound flights to Singapore and passengers are being proactively screened before boarding flights.

Yesterday, the World Health Organisation delayed making a call on whether to declare a global health emergency but a decision is likely to be made later on Thursday.

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