Public health officials in Hong Kong have revealed that 26 passengers who arrived in the city on June 20 after travelling onboard an Emirates flight from Dubai have tested positive for COVID-19 and have now been hospitalised for treatment. The youngest patient is a one-year-old baby, while the eldest is a 61-year-old female Hong Kong resident who has been transferred from a quarantine centre to the Queen Mary Hospital.
All of the passengers on Emirates flight EK380 who have tested positive for the novel Coronavirus had travelled from Pakistan. It’s believed the passengers also flew with Emirates on one of the airline’s outbound-only flights from Pakistan, transited through Dubai International Airport (DXB) and then boarded the second and final 7-hour flight to Hong Kong.
The majority of the passengers were asymptomatic at the time that their positive test results were returned but several were suffering from the tell-tale Coronavirus cough and others had headaches and a fever. It’s not known how long the passengers had been displaying symptoms and if they travelled knowing they felt unwell.
A further 10 Hong Kong patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 flew on Emirates flight EK380 on June 16. So far, three patients from a June 21 flight between Dubai and Hong Kong have also tested positive for the novel Coronavirus.
Emirates and its home hub of Dubai have recently announced ambitious reopening plans after several months of Corona lockdown. A ban on transit passengers passing through Dubai International Airport was lifted earlier this month, while foreign tourists will be allowed to return to the city from July 7.
Tourists will need to present a certificate of a negative COVID-19 test within four days of travelling to Dubai or undergo a test at the airport. For transit passengers, mandatory thermal screening is in operation and passengers with an abnormal temperature will be barred from flying until they have had a so-called PCR test.
Onboard, Emirates is equipping cabin crew with face masks, disposable gowns, goggles and gloves to protect them from possible COVID-19 transmission. Where possible, passengers are being spaced out between and also have to wear face masks. Reading material and Duty Free has been stripped from aircraft to mitigate the risk of cross-contamination and meal services have been changed to limit interaction between crew and passengers.
In addition to those specific health measures, many airlines and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) insist that the risk of actually catching COVID-19 onboard a plane is incredibly low. IATA claims the unique aircraft cabin configuration, as well as powerful HEPA filters, reduce the risk of transmission.
One study commissioned by IATA found just three episodes of suspected in-flight transmission of COVID-19 between January and March amongst 18 major airlines who were surveyed.
Only Hong Kong residents are currently allowed to enter the city and must undergo COVID-19 testing and a mandatory quarantine. Passengers on a number of recent flights have tested positive for Coronavirus including Cathay Pacific flights from Manila and Jarkata.
Emirates has now suspended flights from Pakistan as of Wednesday, June 24. In a statement, the airline said it was “co-ordinating closely with the various authorities and will review and implement any required additional measures to satisfy all parties before we resume services from Pakistan.” Further details can be found here.
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 relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.