Unionised pilots with FedEx Express are urging the US cargo carrier to suspend operations to Hong Kong, as they object to compulsory hospitalisation and quarantine of flight crew exposed to Covid-19 as part of stricter measures imposed by the local government to control the virus outbreak.
“Recently, three Covid-19-positive asymptomatic FedEx pilots have been forced into mandated hospital facilities for up to 10 days in Hong Kong. Additionally, several pilots who already tested negative for Covid-19, but who had been in close contact with a Covid-19 positive person were put into government camps under extremely difficult conditions,” Dave Chase, FedEx Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) Master Executive Council chairman, said in a 28 July statement.
“Not only do these situations pose unacceptable risks to our pilots’ safety and wellbeing, but they also create added stress and distraction for flight operations. While the Covid-19 global pandemic rages on, FedEx pilots continue to provide essential services, operating in extremely challenging and ever-changing environments and constantly adapting to new government mandates and restrictions around the globe.”
The government on 26 July announced tightened testing and quarantine arrangements for air and sea crews.
As of today, all air crew and incoming sea crew members of goods vessels coming to Hong Kong for cargo operation arriving at the Hong Kong International airport must have obtained a negative result for a Covid-19 nucleic acid test conducted at a “recognised laboratory” within 48h prior to boarding. They must also submit a deep throat saliva specimen at the Temporary Specimen Collection Centre (TSCC) of the Department of Health upon arrival in Hong Kong for testing purposes.
All incoming sea crew members and those air crew members who do not possess negative test results must wait at the TSCC or another designated location until their test results are confirmed negative.
Air crew members must self-isolate at their hotel rooms or at home and not “go into the community”. Those in breach of these new rules could be subject to compulsory quarantine for 14 days, a maximum fine of HK$5,000 ($645) and up to six months imprisonment.
“Relevant airlines and shipping companies/agents will be held liable for any contravention of the above requirements,” the government said in a statement today.
Chase of the FedEx ALPA Master Executive Council adds that pilots who test positive for Covid-19 face compulsory admission and treatment in government-selected public hospitals, “with as many as five patients to a room and one shared bathroom”.
“In addition, any pilot or family member in Hong Kong found to have been exposed to a Covid-19 positive individual is placed in a government quarantine facility for up to 14 days with very sparse provisions,” he says.
“We are in contact with FedEx management as we advocate to protect the health, safety, and well-being of our crewmembers operating in Hong Kong. However, every day that passes with crews being exposed to these conditions is unacceptable.”
The Hong Kong government argued that the latest measures are necessary as the city is “at a critical juncture in combating the acute situation of the epidemic”.
“Although the testing and quarantine arrangements will have an impact on the aviation and maritime industry, we consider it necessary to adopt stringent measures at this time. The government will closely monitor the impacts brought about by the relevant measures and suitably adjust our strategy in a bid to minimise the inconvenience to people’s livelihood,” it says.
Hong Kong had almost returned to a pre-pandemic normal after enjoying over two months of zero or single-digit confirmed Covid-19 cases. However, beginning on 22 June, the city started seeing a surge in confirmed cases, reporting a record high of 145 cases in a single day on 27 July.
Effective today, the Hong Kong government has implemented its strictest anti-Covid-19 measures yet, including a total ban on dining in restaurants and limiting gatherings to just two people.
“The epidemic situation of Covid-19 in Hong Kong has continued to deteriorate. New cases recorded during the period from July 20 to July 26 include 679 cases without travel history during the incubation period,” the government said in a 27 July statement.
“The recent emergence of local cases of unknown infection source indicates the existence of sustained silent transmission in the community. The latest public health risk assessment shows that the risk of a large-scale community outbreak is now the highest since the emergence of the epidemic in Hong Kong.”