Police charge Cathay flight attendants at centre of Hong Kong Covid-19 outbreak
HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong police arrested and charged on Monday (Jan 17) two Cathay Pacific flight attendants for allegedly contravening Covid-19 regulations, after the emergence of the Omicron variant in the territory was traced to their breach of home quarantine.
Like China, Hong Kong maintains a strict zero-Covid strategy that has kept cases low, but has largely cut the finance hub off from both the mainland and the rest of the world for the last two years.
A recent outbreak of Omicron traced to Cathay air crew who breached their quarantine period led to a dramatic tightening of already strict anti-coronavirus controls - including shuttering kindergartens, primary schools, and indoor dining at night.
Police announced late on Monday two flight attendants were arrested and charged for violating anti-Covid measures.
"They had conducted unnecessary activities" on Dec 25 and 27, when they were supposed to be under home quarantine after returning to Hong Kong, the statement said.
"They were both subsequently tested positive for Covid-19 Omicron variant, and have been discharged from hospital upon completion of treatment," it added.
The two - who were fired after the quarantine breach - face up to six months in prison and a US$640 (S$863) fine. They have been released on bail and their cases will be heard next month.
The revelation of the Cathay quarantine breach piles new pressure on the airline, already battered by the pandemic as border restrictions bring travel to a trickle into a city that used to be a transport and logistics hub.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said last week that authorities were investigating whether Cathay Pacific has complied with regulations, and could face legal action.
In the onslaught of criticism, chairman Patrick Healy defended his airline, arguing that a "tiny minority" of rule-breakers should not overshadow Cathay Pacific's contributions to Hong Kong.
In 2021, the airline's crew spent over 62,000 nights in quarantine hotels, he said, adding that 1,000 of their staff were subjected to more than 11,000 nights in Penny's Bay, the city's government quarantine camp.
Unlike other carriers, Cathay Pacific has no domestic market to fall back on and a recent tightening of quarantine rules for aircrews has pushed it to scale back cargo flights - the one part of the business that was making money.