Two former Cathay Pacific flight attendants who were sacked by the airline for breaking pandemic rules while they were both infected with COVID-19 have been each jailed for eight weeks after they were found guilty by a Hong Kong court last month of violating quarantine rules.
Local Hong Kong media have blamed Wong Yoon-loong and Nilsson Lau Kok-wang, both 45, for bringing the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 into the territory leading to a massive spike in infections and deaths amongst a largely unvaccinated elderly population.
Hong Kong’s draconian border controls had kept the city largely virus free for much of the pandemic, although the actual source of the Omicron spread is disputed, and an alternative theory places the blame on a quarantine hotel where the virus spread from one room to another.
Wong and Nilsson had faced a maximum sentence of six months imprisonment for their crimes but on Thursday, they were told they would only be jailed for eight weeks. The pair have already spent the last few weeks in prison on remand following the guilty verdict.
At the time of the crime in January 2022, most pilots and flight attendants returning to Hong Kong from an overseas trip were expected to quarantine in a dedicated hotel but there were special exemptions for cargo-only flights and aircrew were permitted to instead isolate at home.
Wong and Nilsson had returned to Hong Kong on two separate cargo-only flights from North America and were exempt from going into a quarantine hotel but were still expected to isolate at home and go for regular COVID-19 tests.
Both men failed to isolate at home for the mandatory three days that they were supposed to and they went to crowded indoor environments where several members of the public were infected.
The ex-flight attendants only found out they had COVID-19 after they had breached their isolation order. The court initially jailed the men for nine weeks, but a week was discounted for mitigating circumstances, including loss of employment.
The spread of Omicron in Hong Kong called into question the territory’s pandemic strategy, which had largely relied upon border closures and strict social distancing rules to the detriment of creating more intensive care hospital beds, improving access to therapeutics and convincing vulnerable sections of the community to get vaccinated.
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.