A group of Virgin Atlantic flight crew were detained in the notorious Penny’s Bay quarantine camp in Hong Kong after one pilot tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in the Chinese controlled territory the airline confirmed to worried staffers in an internal memo.
Despite all other crew members testing negative for COVID-19 on at least two occasions, they were transferred to the now infamous 3,500 room isolation camp which has been likened to a prison with spartan rooms and no mod cons.
Under Hong Kong’s strict zero-COVID policy, the flight crew could have been held for at 21 days but it is understood that Virgin Atlantic worked with the British government to secure their release after several days through backdoor diplomatic channels.
A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic confirmed that one of its pilots had tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Hong Kong despite testing negative before departure in London. The pilot remains in isolation in a Hong Kong Hospital.
“The health and safety of our people is our absolute priority, and our pilot is currently being cared for by specialist health teams in Hong Kong,” the airline said in an emailed statement.
“We are working with the local authorities to repatriate our pilot as soon as we can. We continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation extremely carefully and the latest guidance in the UK and across our international network.”
The spokesperson later confirmed that nine crew members had been quarantined at Penny’s Bay following the pilot’s positive test result but that they had all now been repatriated to the UK.
The camp was created at breakneck speed at the start of the pandemic and is currently being used to house hundreds of foreign domestic workers who arrive in Hong Kong from countries like the Philippines.
Passengers arriving in Hong Kong and who were due to quarantine in a hotel but are classed as close contacts of a positive case are also transferred to the camp.
An American pilot for FedEx Express who was transferred to Penny’s Bay after being classed as a close contact submitted evidence to a Congressional committee hearing about his time at the facility.
“My small room included a one-person bed, about 5 feet long, made of two pieces of plywood and a thin mattress, a compact modular bathroom (all of which became a shower stall), a cement floor, and limited hot water, only enough for a daily 5-minute shower, and none at the sink tap,” the pilot’s testimony explained.
“The room was drafty, but the heat supply was adequate. I had edible food for sustenance but poor to zero wi-fi,” the testimony continued.
The pilot was eventually “extracted” by the U.S. government after he was driven to the airport like he was a “prisoner”.
In September, Air Canada had to work with consular officials to secure the release of several of its pilots who had also been detained at Penny’s Bay despite being COVID negative. The airline subsequently added a technical stop in Seoul, South Korea for a crew change so that pilots don’t have to get off the plane in Hong Kong and run the risk of being placed into quarantine.
Virgin Atlantic continues to operate non-stop service 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 relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.