Quarantine lifted for over 100 aircrew

Health authorities on Saturday released more than 100 aircrew from mandatory quarantine, after determining that they had had no contact with three former Cathay Pacific cargo pilots who returned from Germany infected with Covid-19.

In a statement, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said the pilots earlier claimed that they had not left their hotel rooms during their stay in Frankfurt, implying that the hotel was the only possible common source of their infections.

But an internal probe by the airline later found the trio to have breached closed-loop requirements during their layover.

“They subsequently admitted that they had left the hotel rooms and visited places in the vicinity of the hotel multiple times and had met with each other or [a] friend outside the hotel,” the CHP said.

The centre added that investigations by German authorities also found no local cases linked to the hotel.

“As the genetic sequences of the three cases are highly similar and according to latest investigation findings, it is very likely that they acquired the infection from each other or a common source outside the hotel and the chance of an outbreak in the hotel was relatively low,” officials said.

Authorities said 10 aircrew should still be classified as the trio’s close contacts, but the remaining 111 of them, who stayed in the same hotel but had no contact, could now be released.

The CHP said it will further investigate if anyone has violated information disclosure regulations and provided wrong information to hinder public health investigation work, and enforcement actions will be taken if necessary.

Cathay Pacific earlier announced that the three pilots are no longer employed by the airline.

In response to the CHP’s decision, the airline said it is pleased and will continue to support staff who remain in quarantine.

Speaking after a radio programme on Saturday, government pandemic adviser David Hui urged flight crew to exercise self-discipline and comply with infection-control restrictions.

Professor Hui said the best way to prevent the importing of the virus is to require aircrew to undergo hotel quarantine, but he acknowledged that this may cause airlines manpower issues.

“We need to implement stringent closed-loop management. If all the aircrew can comply with the closed-loop approach, without bringing in virus from overseas, I think that we can continue,” Hui said.

But the professor said authorities will have no choice but to go ahead with hotel quarantine if the virus still manages to seep in.