Two former Cathay Pacific flight attendants have been remanded in custody and are facing prison sentences of up to six months each after being found guilty of breaking Hong Kong’s draconian pandemic border controls while infected with the highly-transmissible Omicron COVID-19 variant.
The two men were found guilty by a judge at Hong Kong’s Eastern Magistrates Court on Thursday of breaching three pandemic-era laws that had, until the introduction of the Omicron variant, kept the territory largely free of any major Coronavirus outbreak.
After the verdict was read out, the court ruled that Wong Yoon-loong and Nilsson Lau Kok-wang should be remanded in custody ahead of their sentencing hearing next month. The maximum sentence is six months imprisonment.
Wong and Nilsson were fired from their jobs as flight attendants at Cathay Pacific shortly after their arrests in January on suspicion of breaking isolation rules.
At the time, most returning aircrew were subjected to mandatory hotel or institutional quarantine, but the Hong Kong government had more lenient rules for crew who operated on cargo-only flights returning to the city from overseas.
The rules were primarily designed for pilots but Cathay Pacific interpreted the rules to also include flight attendants who were ‘deadheading’ or ‘positoning’ on freighter flights with no passengers onboard.
Wong and Nilsson retuned to Hong Kong on two separate flights from the United States in late December. They were exempt from quarantine but were meant to adhere to various isolation rules that barred them from entering crowded public spaces.
The two men were found guilty of breaking these rules and going out to socialise in busy indoor environments while infected with COVID-19. One of them directly infected eight diners at a restaurant and indirectly one other person.
The day after breaching the pandemic control measures, Wong and Nilsson both tested positive for COVID-19. They should have remained in isolation until the results of this test had been returned.
Hong Kong was engulfed by COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant ripped through the territory’s defences in early 2022, and the city was quickly forced to abandon any notion that it could return to a state of ‘Zero Covid’.
On Thursday, the city’s health department relaxed entry rules for international arrivals, reducing the number of post-arrival highly-sensitive PCR tests that visitors are subjected to. The government did not, however, relax daily self-testing rules.
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.