Global supply chains, already under pressure from worker shortages and bottlenecks as most of the world emerges from the pandemic, were nearly dealt a further blow this week after two freighter pilots for Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific brought an unwelcome stowaway with them from a trip to Frankfurt, Germany – COVID-19.
While even Fortress Australia, New Zealand and Singapore have come to start living with the virus, Hong Kong remains committed to a COVID Zero strategy that will enable it to open up with the Chinese mainland at the expense of connecting to the rest of the world.
Locally reported cases of COVID-19 remain a rarity, helped by Hong Kong’s tough 21-day quarantine period for the small number of people even eligible to enter the territory. Unlike cabin crew, however, some freighter pilots get to skip quarantine because their skills are in so much demand.
Cathay Pacific’s passenger operation has been left decimated by government health rules and capacity in September was just 5 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Its cargo business, though, has been a roaring success throughout the pandemic and cargo-only flight operations surged 20 per cent in September on the back of strong demand for freighter services.
The success of Cathay Pacific’s cargo business, however, was at real risk following the discovery that two pilots had tested positive for COVID-19 while in the community.
Thousands of residents were ordered to have mandatory tests and so far the situation seems to be under control. That fact has helped Cathay Pacific convince local health officials not to impose the same quarantine rules on freighter pilots as has happened to cabin crew who work on passenger flights.
“Fully recognizing the Hong Kong SAR Government’s mission to keep Hong Kong free from COVID-19, our aircrew are regularly reminded of the critical importance of complying with anti-pandemic measures both in Hong Kong and overseas,” the airline said in a contrite statement released on Friday.
“We are conducting a thorough internal investigation into these cases to ensure we continue to operate with the highest degree of safety and compliance. Where improvements are necessary or compliance requirements are not being followed, we will take appropriate measures and actions in accordance with our company procedures,” the statement continued.
With the two pilots under investigation, Cathay Pacific has convinced health authorities to keep the quarantine exemption in place with a substitute of daily testing. Pilots will have their movements tracked and restricted once back in Hong Kong during lengthy ‘medical surveillance periods’.
Pilots and other crew are meant to isolate themselves in their hotel rooms during international layovers but fearing some have been breaking the rules, the airline will also send security guards to crew hotels to make sure no one breaks their room confinement.
Pilots and other crew were also told on Friday that they would be expected to have a third booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine if they want to remain employed.
Interestingly, Cathay Pacific says it remains committed to maintaining Hong Kong’s global “aviation hub status” – that status comes under further pressure as each day passes.
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.