The Hong Kong government is said to be considering imposing a mandatory two-week quarantine on nearly all arriving aircrew in a drastic attempt to prevent the importation of new fast-spreading variants of the COVID-19 virus reports SCMP. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific is said to be lobbying the government hard on the issue with sources claiming the proposals would effectively “kill” what is left of an already decimated aviation industry.
Under the proposed plans, all pilots, flight attendants and other aircrew who arrive in Hong Kong from an international destination and spend more than two hours on the ground will be forced into a two-week hotel quarantine.
The proposal would allow foreign airlines to operate so-called ‘shuttle’ flights where they could swap over aircrew before continuing onto Hong Kong to drop off and pick up passengers. Airlines would then avoid quarantine rules because crew wouldn’t need to get off the plane and the turnaround could be completed within the two-hour timeframe.
The rules would, however, cause a logistical nightmare for Cathay Pacific because the majority of its frontline flying staff are based in Hong Kong and there would be no way to avoid the quarantine rules. Similar rules affect regional competitors like EVA Air and China Airlines in Taiwan.
At present, local Cathay Pacific staffers are tested on arrival and then put into hotel isolation for 24-hours while they await the result of their test. If the test is negative, crew are not subjected to any other restrictions. There are fears, though, that a single test on arrival might not identify the presence of COVID-19 if the infection is still within the initial incubation period.
In recent weeks, there has been an increasing number of reports of passengers testing positive for the novel Coronavirus just days after taking a pre-departure test which was clean. Controversially, over 70 pro tennis players due to play at the Australian Open in Melbourne are now in hard quarantine because members of their entourages tested positive on arrival in Australia despite pre-departure testing.
Although airline bosses in the United States are confident that infection rates amongst flight attendants are significantly less than the general population, there is concern that aircrew can be vectors of the virus. This poses a particular threat for governments trying to prevent importation of new variants of the virus.
Some airlines, including Emirates and Etihad Airways, are now racing to vaccinate frontline workers in a bid to head off this threat. Singapore Airlines hopes to become the fully vaccinated airline as part of its attempts to reopen international travel.
There is, however, a lack of evidence as to whether current COVID vaccines actually prevent transmission of the virus and further research is required to determine whether vaccines can act as a replacement for quarantine rules.
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.