Govt mulls tightening aircrew restrictions

Health officials on Wednesday said Hong Kong may further tighten quarantine rules for exempted groups such as flight crew members after three of them were among the city’s latest imported Covid-19 patients.

Local flight crew are currently subject to a “closed-loop” management system when they work overseas, meaning their airline has to provide them with point-to-point transport from the airport to the hotel. Crew members are also restricted from travelling outside the hotel.

But upon their return to Hong Kong, they can enter the community if they test negative for Covid at the airport.

“We’ll work with Transport and Housing Bureau colleagues to further review if there’s a possibility to consider further [restricting] the movement of the exempted aircrew in Hong Kong,” Edwin Tsui, the controller of the Centre for Health Protection, told a press conference.

“[This may include] the location of isolation or quarantine in Hong Kong, so as to balance the public health risk about importation of disease and the operation of cargo and aviation matters.”

But Dr Siddharth Sridhar, a clinical virologist from the University of Hong Kong, said such a move would be premature.

“I do understand that there are exemptions in place that allow cases to slip past the cracks, but then we have other elements and defence such as robust regular testing of return aircrew staff as well as quarantine of potential close contacts to ensure that further spread is limited,” he said.

Hong Kong earlier announced tightening quarantine exemption rules for most non-essential travellers that will come into effect from Friday, but flight crew remain exempted.

Two of the patients confirmed on Wednesday work at Cathay Pacific. They tested negative at the airport after returning from Germany on Saturday, and health officials said they were most likely infected overseas.

But because the pair entered the local community during the incubation period, officials could not rule out the virus being contracted locally.

The centre’s Albert Au said the risk of them spreading Covid locally is also high. “Their viral load is very high, they’re very infectious… Fortunately, they didn’t have extensive local movements, they mainly stayed at home,” he said.

One of the patients is a 57-year-old pilot who lives in Discovery Bay. After testing negative at the airport on Saturday, he went home before testing positive on Monday.

His wife teaches at Discovery Bay International School, where their children also attend. Around 120 students there have to be sent into quarantine.

A colleague of the pilot, a 29-year-old man who lives in Tsim Sha Tsui, has also come down with coronavirus.

About 60 of his friends and colleagues, some of whom played football with him last month, are also being sent into isolation.

Health officials said there were three other confirmed cases, and they recently flew in from Qatar, the Philippines and Italy, via Qatar.
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Last updated: 2021-11-10 HKT 18:51