Three Cathay Pacific cargo pilots who caught COVID-19 in quick succession after staying in a crew hotel in Frankfurt, Germany have admitted to lying to authorities and could now face criminal prosecution for breaking Hong Kong’s tough pandemic contact tracing laws.
Based on the false accounts originally given by the pilots, health officials believed there was a major COVID-19 cluster at the crew hotel and took the drastic decision to incarcerate nearly 150 Cathay Pacific crew members who had stayed at the same hotel in the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp in Hong Kong.
The crew members, along with some of their family members and other close contacts were locked in the quarantine facility for what should have been a 21-day sentence but the vast majority have now been released early after officials concluded they posed little threat to Hong Kong’s ‘Zero COVID’ status.
“Cathay Pacific is pleased with the news that our aircrew who have been quarantining at Penny’s Bay solely because they stayed in the Mainz Hotel have now been allowed by the health authorities to return home,” commented a spokesperson for the airline.
“This development follows an investigation by health authorities into the positive cases of COVID-19 originating in Frankfurt earlier this month,” the statement continued. “We will continue to support a number of our aircrew who remain in the facility and provide all necessary assistance”.
The three pilots at the centre of the lockdown have already been sacked by Cathay Pacific following an internal investigation.
All Cathay Pacific aircrew on international layovers are expected to remain isolated in their hotel rooms – a rule that the pilots initially insisted they complied with. Only later, did they admit to leaving their rooms “multiple times”.
Two of the pilots met up with one another outside of the hotel, while the third met a friend outside the hotel.
A detailed investigation by Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection soon left the pilot’s original testimony in tatters. A spokesperson said genetic sequencing was used in the investigation:
“As the genetic sequences of the three cases are highly similar and according to latest investigation findings, it is very likely that they acquired the infection from each other or a common source outside the hotel and the chance of an outbreak in the hotel was relatively low.”
On Saturday, 111 crew members were released from quarantine but 10 others are still being classed as ‘close contacts’ and must remain at Penny’s Bay.
The incident has caused a backlash in Hong Kong with some aircrew saying they are being harassed and insulted by Hong Kongers over fears they are putting the territory and its people at risk. The debacle has already resulted in FedEx Express permanently shutting its Hong Kong pilots base, while many foreign expat pilots are now considering moving out of the territory.
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.