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Virgin Atlantic Crew Member Rescued From Hong Kong Quarantine Camp Just in Time for Christmas

Virgin Atlantic Crew Member Rescued From Hong Kong Quarantine Camp Just in Time for Christmas

A member of cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic was repatriated from Hong Kong just in time for Christmas after being detained in a pandemic quarantine facility in the Chinese territory. The crew member tested positive for COVID-19 shortly after arriving in Hong Kong earlier this week and faced the prospect of spending Christmas Day in solitary confinement.

Virgin Atlantic has continued to operate non-stop flights to the Chinese territory even after British Airways temporarily pulled the plug on its Hong Kong flights because the risk of crew members being detained for extended periods in quarantine camps was deemed too great.

British Airways only suspended flights to Hong Kong after three sets of crew ended up being held at the makeshift Penny’s Bay quarantine camp. The facility made headlines last month after more than 150 pilots and cabin crew for Cathay Pacific were locked inside the camp as potential close contacts.

Under Hong Kong’s tough pandemic entry rules, aircrew must have a negative COVID-19 test before operating flights to the city. They are also required to have a second test immediately after landing. If that test is positive, they must be sent to a quarantine camp for 21-days.

Other crew on the same flight as the COVID positive crew member are usually considered ‘close contacts’ and must also endure the same 21-day quarantine period. In the past, airline have been able to secure the release of crew within a week or just slightly longer.

To skirt the very real risk of crew members being detained for weeks on end, many airlines operating flights to Hong Kong now add a technical stop in Bangkok and ‘shuttle’ across to Hong Kong so that crew never have to get off the plane and therefore don’t need to be tested on arrival.

Emirates and KLM have been successfully operating flights to Hong Kong like this for months without incident. British Airways has also added a stopover and crew change in Bangkok to do the same thing.

Virgin Atlantic chose a different tactic that involved crew taking multiple tests and the possibility of a last-minute diversion. As well as a Hong Kong compliant PCR test the day before the flight, crew were required to take a rapid PCR test on the same day of the flight.

If both tests came back negative they were allowed to board but were then required to take a third rapid antigen test within an hour of landing in Hong Kong. If any crew member tested positive, the pilots could divert the flight to a different country where quarantine rules weren’t so strict.

In this latest case, however, all three tests failed to show the crew member could be COVID-19 positive. On arrival, the PCR test administered by airport testers came back positive and the crew member was despatched to Penny’s Bay.

Unusually, the other crew members were allowed to immediately return to London because the flight was not carrying passengers.

Virgin Atlantic says they managed to secure the crew member’s release and they were returned to the UK on Thursday. In a previous statement, the airline said: “The health and safety of our people is our absolute priority.”

“We continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation extremely carefully and the latest guidance in the UK and across our international network.”

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