Hong Kong’s Department of Justice is planning to file a lawsuit against Cathay Pacific Airways, the territory’s homegrown airline and de facto flag carrier, blaming it for the Chinese territory’s worst COVID-19 outbreak since the start of the pandemic, a source close to the case has claimed.
Local journalist Ezra Cheung has cited a source who claims the lawsuit is connected to two flight attendants who broke quarantine rules and infected several people in the community with the highly transmissible Omiceon variant.
Hong Kong is now struggling to contain the outbreak and on Monday the territory reported more than 2,000 confirmed new cases – the highest ever daily case count. Social distancing rules have been tightened, schools closed and hospitals put on high alert as authorities react to the worsening situation.
The two flight attendants have already been charged with breaking pandemic rules and face a trial in criminal court but Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has previously suggested that she was holding Cathay Pacific responsible for the outbreak.
Hong Kong has some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world for aircrew but recognising the city’s reliance on imported goods, aircrew who entered the territory on cargo-only flights were allowed to skip two weeks of hotel quarantine for just three days of home isolation.
The easier isolation rules appear to have been intended only for dedicated cargo pilots but Cathay Pacific also brought flight attendants home on freighter-only services. Cathay chairman Patrick Healy insists the apparent loophole wasn’t against the rules as they were written at the time.
Healy says Cathay Pacific and its staff have faced “the most challenging conditions for any airline in the world” and the vast majority of employees have acted professionally throughout the pandemic. He has publicly apologized for the “disruption and anguish” caused by a small number of “non-compliances”.
The Hong Kong government has moved to close any kind of quarantine loophole for aircrew but the few who are still allowed to skip hotel isolation must now be electronically tagged. Cathay Pacific’s schedule has been decimated by pandemic restrictions and flights from several markets remain suspended.
Chains of transmission connected with the latest outbreak can be traced back to several sources, including returning residents who were infected while spending lengthy periods in hotel quarantine.
Cathay Pacific did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
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.