Pilots and cabin crew working for the beleaguered Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific spent more than 73,000 nights in quarantine in 2021 according to the carrier’s chairman Patrick Healy. He told staffers in a leaked internal video that Cathay Pacific had faced “the most challenging conditions for any airline in the world” through the pandemic.
“Cathay crew bravely and selflessly volunteered to operate evacuation flights to bring Hong Kong people home,” Healy said of the early days of the pandemic. “More recently, thousands of our crew have volunteered for closed-loop roster patterns flying from quarantine hotel to quarantine hotel, separated from your families for weeks on end.”
So-called ‘closed-loop working’ is a popular virus containment method in China in which workers in high-risk environments are quarantined away from the general population and are only allowed to leave quarantine in order to go to work.
Closed-loop systems are often used for hospital staff dealing with potentially infectious patients but the practice is being supercharged for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games next month and has been used by Cathay Pacific to partially circumvent tough pandemic isolation rules.
Last year, Cathay Pacific crew spent a combined total of 62,000 nights in quarantine hotels, and 1,000 crew spent more than 11,000 nights in the notorious Penny’s Bay quarantine camp.
Crew members were often dispatched to Penny’s Bay along with their families simply because they were classed as loose ‘close contacts’ of potentially positive patients.
But Cathay Pacific has come under intense scrutiny in the last few weeks after two crew members allegedly broke self-isolation rules leaving to a small but significant Omicron outbreak in the densely populated territory. On Wednesday, Hong Kong reported just one community infection.
“Of course, I am acutely aware that a small number of our crew have brought the company into disrepute by breaking self-isolation rules,” Healy told staffers in the video published by Twitter user tripperhead. “We have apologised publicly for the disruption and anguish caused by these non-compliances.”
Cathay Pacific says it is fully complying with two government investigations into the airline’s pandemic practices and the individual actions of the crew members involved.
“The non-compliance of this tiny minority should not be allowed to overshadow the remarkable discipline and professionalism of the overwhelming majority of Cathay Pacific crew,” Healy continued.
But quarantine rules have been made even more stringent and Cathay has been forced to slash its already decimated schedule in January. The Hong Kong government has banned all flights from eight high-risk countries including the United States, United Kingdom and Australia and is reportedly considering a ban on all transit traffic from a much larger list of 150 countries.
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.