Scores of Cathay Pacific pilots and cabin crew have been ordered into quarantine for a minimum of 21-days after three freighter pilots returned from layovers in Frankfurt and tested positive for COVID-19 in quick succession. Any crew members who spent time in Frankfurt since November 1 will now be forced into a government-controlled quarantine facility.
Freighter pilots are normally exempted from Hong Kong’s tough quarantine rules and the three positive cases have caused alarm because all three Covid positive pilots were in the community when the virus was detected.
Hong Kong has successfully pursued a so-called ‘Covid Zero’ strategy and the imported cases have caused a great deal of concern amongst the population. Authorities have ordered mass testing and targeted lockdowns, while dozens of residents have been whisked away into quarantine in an attempt to prevent a mass outbreak.
The fact that all three pilots had spent time in Frankfurt has resulted in the spotlight falling on Cathay Pacific’s crew layover hotel as health officials 9,125 km away try to prevent any further cases being imported from the German city.
Pilots and cabin crew are expected to self-isolate in their hotel rooms during international layovers and are told to avoid contact with local people. Crew should not leave their rooms to get exercise or even go shopping but are allowed to have food and shopping delivered to their rooms.
It remains unclear how three pilots came to be infected in the same layover hotel in such a short space of time, although Germany is currently experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections as vaccination rates lag behind other European countries and people start spending more time indoors as winter sets in.
Cathay Pacific currently operates two passenger flights to Frankfurt per week, as well as a number of cargo-only services. All pilots and cabin crew who have worked on flights to the city since November 1, regardless of whether they had contact with the infected pilots, will now have to endure 21-days in mandatory quarantine.
Crew who are still in Frankfurt, as well as anyone else, considered ‘close contacts’ who are currently abroad, must now quarantine in a hotel for 21-days before being allowed to return to Hong Kong.
When they are allowed to return, they may also then be expected to go into quarantine.
In an internal memo explaining the quarantine order, Cathay Pacific told staffers: “These recent cases are so unfortunate for our crew community and their family members after over 20 months of exemplary operating standards and compliance with the multitude of guidelines and regulations that have been introduced as a result of Covid-19.”
“This is not the way we wanted to end 2021 and it is important at this time that we support each other and stay strong,” the memo continued.
While there is no suggestion that the recently infected pilots broke self-isolation rules during their layovers, Cathay Pacific said on Friday that it would send security guards into the airline’s international layover hotels to ensure that crew don’t leave their rooms.
Crew will also be subjected to daily COVID-19 testing.
While much of the rest of the world is starting a slow recovery from the pandemic, Cathay Pacific has been hobbled by Hong Kong’s pandemic restrictions. Passenger capacity is down 87 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels and in September, the beleaguered airline announced passenger numbers for the month was down 95 per cent compared to 2019.
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.