A member of British Airways cabin crew has sparked outrage after comparing a government-run COVID-19 quarantine facility in Hong Kong to a “literal concentration camp”. In a series of Snapchat posts the crew member claimed the entire crew of 13 were “marched” from their hotel rooms because one tested positive for the novel Coronavirus. According to Hong Kong government records, the crew arrived in the Chinese territory on September 22 but the positive test result in just one crew member was only confirmed on Thursday.
Under Hong Kong’s strict and largely successful anti-COVID measures, anyone who tests positive for the virus, as well as their close contacts must go into a government-run quarantine facility for at least 14-days. During their stay, those held in quarantine must take their temperature twice daily and are allowed outside of the basic accommodation to get fresh air and some exercise.
One crew member who had been working on British Airways flight BA31 took to Snapchat to share her experience, saying hazmat-suited officials turned up at their hotel and gave them just 30 minutes to gather up their belongings before being transferred to the rather less salubrious surroundings of a quarantine facility kitted out with basic single beds and a small en-suite.
At least three meals are provided each day with a menu of both Chinese and Western options. Biscuits and cup noodles are also available but sanitary items are an additional cost.
The crew member who tested positive, meanwhile, has been transferred to hospital although she is said to be asymptomatic. However, it’s relatively standard practice in Hong Kong for anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 to be admitted to hospital.
One British tabloid newspaper said the treatment of the crew members had sparked a diplomatic row with officials attempting unsuccessfully to secure the release of the cabin crew in order that they spend quarantine in the UK. A spokesperson for British Airways said the airline was continuing to cooperate with local authorities while providing support to the crew.
“Our teams in Hong Kong and London are helping to care for our cabin crew members, providing them with support and additional supplies to make sure their stay is as comfortable as possible after the authorities requested they quarantine in accordance with local Covid-19 regulations,” an emailed statement explained.
“We work closely with governments in every country we fly to, and always put the safety and wellbeing of our teams and customers at the heart of everything we do,” the statement continued.
The crew member hit out a decision to allow the pilots on the same flight to return home without quarantining, although it’s believed that decision was made by the Hong Kong health authorities.
Until recently, aircrew had to undergo mandatory COVID-19 testing on arrival in Hong Kong but were then allowed free movement around the territory. But after a Coronavirus third wave threatened the city and media reports blamed air and maritime crew for importing the virus, rules were tightened and there is now a strict hotel room lockdown for all crew member operating to the territory.
There are reciprocal arrangements in place for many countries that Hong Kong-based carrier Cathay Pacific operate to.
In July, the union that represents FedEx pilots demanded the company stop operating to Hong Kong after several pilots were forced into similar quarantine camps. The Air Line Pilots Association International (ALPA) said pilots were living “under extremely difficult conditions,” in the camps and said the quarantine rules were causing stress and “unacceptable risks” to their wellbeing.
The pilots union for British Airways claimed the conditions in one of the quarantine camps was “vile” and there was “dangerous electrical wiring and blocked fire escapes” according to one memo.
Comparing the camp to prison, one of the cabin crew members stuck in Hong Kong said she feared for her mental health during the quarantine. The Foreign Office said it was in direct contact with the crew members and officials in Hong Kong. British Airways has no plans to suspend flights to Hong Kong.
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.