LCQ12: Following up incident of air crew members violating anti-epidemic regulations
At the end of last year, two flight attendants of Cathay Pacific Airways Limited conducted unnecessary activities during home medical surveillance in contravention of the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation (Cap. 599A), which eventually led to the outbreak of the fifth wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 epidemic, resulting in more than 10 000 deaths. The then Chief Executive and the Secretary for Food and Health repeatedly indicated that they would investigate if the flight arrangement of the airline concerned complied with the requirements of the Government and if it violated the quarantine exemption arrangements between the Government and airlines for cargo aircrafts and air freights, and stressed that the investigation would not end up with nothing definite. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it knows if, apart from the Government's requirements for quarantine, isolation and medical surveillance which have legal effect, the airline concerned had imposed any additional epidemic prevention requirements on its air crew members at the time of the aforesaid incident;
(2) given that the Government has not yet released the report of the aforesaid investigation, of the reasons for that; how it ensures that the investigation will not end up with nothing definite; and
(3) during the aforesaid incident, whether the flight arrangement of the airline concerned complied with the requirements of the Government, and whether the arrangement violated the quarantine exemption arrangements between the Government and airlines for cargo aircrafts and air freights; whether it has reviewed if there were any loopholes in the Government's relevant quarantine requirements themselves, which had led to the outbreak of the fifth wave of the epidemic?
In response to the questions raised by the Hon Michael Tien, the consolidated reply is as follows:
The Government has been continuously reviewing and making timely adjustments to the quarantine arrangements applicable to air crew, in the light of the developments of the global and local epidemic situation. The aim is to safeguard public health, while ensuring the smooth continuation of air services in and out of Hong Kong in order to sustain the normal operation of Hong Kong's community and economy.
The Government has all along maintained close communication with the aviation industry, and has requested airlines to put in place effective measures to ensure that their air crew strictly comply with the relevant anti-epidemic requirements. Regarding the issue concerning two former air crew members of Cathay Pacific Airways Limited (Cathay Pacific) who failed to undergo medical surveillance at home as per the Government's requirements in force at the time after their return to Hong Kong upon completion of flight duties in end-December 2021, the Police pressed charge against the two former air crew members concerned after obtaining legal advice. The Court made a verdict on November 17, 2022, finding the two former air crew members concerned guilty, and sentenced the two persons to eight weeks in jail on December 1, 2022.
According to the requirements in force at the time when the case occurred (i.e. in end-December 2021), for locally based passenger crew who performed duties on a passenger flight flying to an outport and laid over at the outport, they were required to undergo testing and quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel after their return to Hong Kong. According to the requirements in force at the material time, relevant locally based cargo crew were subject to medical surveillance at home after their return to Hong Kong upon completion of their flight duties. The latter arrangement served to maintain the necessary air cargo services in and out of Hong Kong, hence was not applicable to locally based passenger crew.
Cathay Pacific had arranged its locally based passenger crew to directly return to their homes to undergo medical surveillance upon their arrival in Hong Kong, after rostering them to lay over at outports and return to Hong Kong on inbound flights that carried cargo only. The Government has finished examining the relevant matter, and upon review of the relevant information, confirmed that the relevant arrangement was not in line with the policy intent of the Government. The Government has directed Cathay Pacific to follow up seriously and to conduct a thorough review. Cathay Pacific has also been asked to put in place a robust compliance and monitoring mechanism to prevent reoccurrences. The Government has, at that time, also tightened the quarantine arrangements applicable to locally based air crew, stepped up monitoring, and in clear terms requested the management teams of airlines to take up full responsibility for monitoring and managing their air crew through effective measures, with a view to ensuring that their air crew would fully comply with the relevant anti-epidemic requirements.
As the global and local epidemic situation evolves, the Government will continue to make timely adjustments to the quarantine arrangements applicable to air crew, following a science-based and targeted approach for combating the epidemic, with due regard to proper risk management. By doing so, the Government will continue to safeguard public health, while at the same time balance the operational needs of the aviation industry, with a view to enabling airlines to step up their flight capacity gradually in order to meet the market demand for air services in and out of Hong Kong.
Ends/Wednesday, December 7, 2022
Issued at HKT 14:45
Issued at HKT 14:45