Cathay Pacific revealed on Saturday that more than 3,200 pilots and cabin crew have undergone either mandatory or voluntary COVID-19 testing since April and not a single one has so far back come back positive for the novel Coronavirus. The embattled Hong Kong-based airline said it felt compelled to react to local media reports that have suggested a resurgence of COVID-19 in the territory could be linked to air and maritime crew who are exempted from a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
After successfully containing the threat of the novel Coronavirus for several months, Hong Kong has reported record daily case numbers over the last few days. On Friday, 123 new cases were reported by Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection, following a 118 case increase on Thursday. On Saturday, Hong Kong recorded its seventeenth death linked to COVID-19.
While returning residents are subject to mandatory COVID-19 testing on arrival and a 14-day quarantine order, there are special exemptions for air and sea crew. Some local media have speculated that these loopholes in quarantine rules could have allowed COVID-19 positive crew members to enter Hong Kong and infect local residents.
“Since April, more than 3,200 voluntary and mandatory tests have been taken by Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon pilots and cabin crew. None of these has come back positive, and none of our operating crew has been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19,” explained Greg Hughes, Cathay’s chief operations officer in response to media reports.
“This demonstrates that our aircrew are extremely diligent when it comes to adhering to social distancing rules and protecting themselves. Throughout the COVID-19 period our crew have acted with the highest levels of safety, compliance and professionalism,” Hughes continued.
A spokesperson for the Hong Kong government has downplayed the threat posed by crew members, saying the majority of imported cases were from Hong Kong residents returning from foreign countries. In one case, 26 passengers on a single Emirates flight tested positive for Coronavirus on arrival in Hong Kong.
But while the passengers were subject to a compulsory quarantine order even before they tested positive, the same requirement didn’t apply to crew who worked on the flight.
Since last month, all aircrew members arriving in Hong Kong must have a COVID-19 test on arrival but are allowed to enter the territory before test results are returned. The Department of Health also requires crew members to check their temperature twice daily and wear a face mask whenever they are in public.
Similar testing requirements have been extended to maritime crew members.
Cathay Pacific said it would continue to put non-Hong Kong-based crew in designated hotels during their stay in the territory and asks them to practice social distancing.
In contrast to Cathay Pacific’s apparent success in preventing a COVID-19 outbreak amongst crew, Delta Air Lines says at least 500 employees have so far tested positive for the novel Coronavirus and more than 50 have tragically died. Last week, a veteran Hawaiian Airlines fight attendant died after allegedly contracting the virus at a training event at the airline’s headquarters where 14 other crew were infected.
And in late March, four British Airways crew members on a single flight to Dubai tested positive for COVID-19. The cluster only came to light because health officials in the emirate had recently introduced mandatory testing for arriving crewmembers.
Hong Kong recently required passengers from certain high-risk countries to present a negative COVID-19 test certificate before being allowed to board a flight. They are then subject to a second test on arrival and mandatory quarantine.
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.