A Qantas flight attendant has tested positive for COVID-19 days after operating a repatriation flight back to Australia from Paris, France and then getting on a domestic service with other passengers onboard. New South Wales health officials, however, say the male flight attendant probably wasn’t infectious at the time he boarded the domestic flight and he is now in a government-run quarantine facility.
The crew member arrived in Darwin after working on Qantas flight QF176 on December 17. The flight was a special repatriation service part-funded by the Australian government to help get back Australian citizens and residents who have been stranded in Europe for months.
While the passengers onboard the flight were required to go immediately into secure hotel quarantine for two weeks, the flight crew were allowed to travel home. On December 18, the male crew member boarded a domestic flight to Sydney but developed symptoms of Coronavirus a few days later.
In a statement, Qantas said protocols had now changed and flight crew will no longer be allowed to travel on normal domestic passenger flights after operating international repatriation services.
“We are providing support to a cabin crew member who tested positive for COVID-19, after operating the Federal Government’s repatriation flight back from Paris last week,” commented Qantas medical director Dr Ian Hosegood.
“I spoke to him last night and again this morning and thankfully he has only mild symptoms and is generally feeling well.”
Dr Hosegood said the airline was working with health officials to establish how the crew member became infected but the hotel where the crew stayed near Charles De Gaulle airport has confirmed that none of the flight attendants left their rooms during the short layover.
“The crew member did not have symptoms when operating the repatriation flight or when travelling on the domestic sector, and was wearing a mask throughout both flights, so the risk of transmission is low. The domestic flight occurred more than 48 hours prior to symptom onset,” Dr Hosegood continued.
The airline noted that over 100 repatriation flights have been operated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and this is the first time that a crew member has been infected with the virus since March.
While operating repatriation flights, crew must wear personal protective equipment and face masks. Onboard service is also limited to reduce contact with passengers. On arrival at foreign outstations, crew must immediately go into hotel quarantine. Once they return to Australia, they are also required to self-isolate at home.
If a crew member can’t self-isolate at home then Qantas will provide a hotel room for them. Critics of the current system, however, say all crew should be forced into hotel quarantine to prevent possible community spread of the virus.
In the last few days, New South Wales health officials tightened rules for international aircrew after several incidents in which foreign flight attendants were found to be breaking the rules. All international aircrew must now stay in one of two approved hotels in the Sydney area which are under police guard.
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.