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China Airlines Grounds Cargo Flights as COVID Outbreak Amongst Pilots Widens

China Airlines Grounds Cargo Flights as COVID Outbreak Amongst Pilots Widens

China Airlines has been forced to ground a slew of cargo flights after a major COVID-19 outbreak took one-sixth of the airline’s pilots out of action. The outbreak is linked to a quarantine hotel used specifically for airline staff at the Novotel hotel at Taipei’s Taoyuan International Airport in Taiwan.

Only 12 of the airline’s pilots are confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19 since the outbreak first took hold on April 20 but containment efforts have led to 200 flight crew being placed into quarantine – around 1/6 of China Airlines’ entire pilot workforce.

The Novotel hotel cluster has also spread to flight attendants and hotel workers, as well as some of their friends and family. The outbreak has caused alarm in a country that has, until now, done incredibly well at keeping the pandemic at bay.

The hotel has since been shut down and everyone moved to a government-run quarantine facility. Around 700 non-quarantined pilots were recalled for mandatory testing at which point more cases were detected, with some believed to have been exposed during training.

One infected pilot and a flight attendant have also been fined by health officials after socialising in a packed bar soon after arriving home from a trip abroad and when they should have been avoiding mass gatherings.

On Friday, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said it would fine the airline 1 million yaun (USD $155,400) for the “improper management” of the crew quarantine hotel.

China Airlines has already been forced to cut a number of passenger services due to the outbreak but had hoped to keep its profitable cargo operation running at full pace. The airline now says it will completely ground cargo flights to Dallas (DFW), Atlanta (ATL) and New York (JFK) for between two and three weeks.

Cargo services to other North American and European destinations will also be curtailed for several weeks, although a spokesperson for China Airlines says it is still “working out a new schedule“.

In a statement released on Friday, the airline said it hoped mass-vaccination would prevent further outbreaks:

“China Airlines has set up a vaccination station in the China Airlines campus and arranged for flight crew members to give priority to vaccinations. It is hoped that pilots and their families can be vaccinated as soon as possible to protect the health of themselves and their families.”

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