Covid cases are on the rise again. In Europe, levels of the virus have risen by an estimated 30 percent in the United Kingdom, driven partly by a new subvariant of Omicron which could be more transmissible and that has been proven to escape prior immunity from vaccination or past infection better than previous subvariants.
Like in previous Covid waves, what is happening in Europe is likely to soon follow in the United States. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that the BA.5 Omicron variant accounted for more than 36 percent of reported cases in the week ending June 25.
Some experts believe the subvariant is “multiple times” more transmissible than the already highly transmissible Omicron, although the European Centers for Disease Control says there is not yet enough data to conclude that BA.5 is in fact any more transmissible.
But the ECDC does already know that BA.5 is more likely to infect someone even if they are fully vaccinated and boosted or if they’ve previously recovered from a Covid infection.
At the moment, there’s not enough data to determine how much impact BA.5 could have on the severity of the illness but previous Omicron variants have resulted in reduced severity and hospitalizations aren’t spiking in Europe or the UK like in previous waves.
Nonetheless, the CDC suggests anyone infected with COVID-19 should quarantine for at least five full days and not to travel. The issue, however, is that many companies have ended generous pandemic sickness policies so it can cost employees dearly for calling out sick with Covid.
That’s exactly what happened at American Airlines, where flight attendants were told they would accrue sickness points if they tested positive for Covid. Sickness points can result in disciplinary action including dismissal if too many points are racked up in too short a time period.
It wasn’t lost on the flight attendants union, the Association Professional Flight Attendants, that its members might choose to attend work rather than call out sick with Covid in order to avoid sickness points.
Thankfully, American Airlines has decided to amend its policy but the airline is clearly concerned that rapid self-tests that can be performed at home are a ripe tool for sickness fraud.
The airline is getting around this issue by requiring flight attendants to take a ‘proctored test’ if they want sickness points to be discounted. Proctored tests can be performed in person or via video link.
In return, AA will give flight attendants the CDC-recommended five days of quarantine time without fear of acquiring attendance points. Whether five days is a suitable quarantine period is still up for debate but Omicron does generally cause shorter bouts of illness than the original Covid virus.
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.