The association representing FedEx Express aircrew has called on the US company to suspend flights to Hong Kong, saying the city’s stricter measures against a third wave of Covid-19 infections exposes them to “unacceptable risks”.
The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) made the move after three FedEx pilots, who tested positive for Covid-19, were “forced” into hospital for treatment. Close contacts were also put in government quarantine camps “under extremely difficult conditions”, it said.
Forced hospital admissions and isolation for close contacts are standard procedure for Hong Kong’s health authorities when handling positive virus patients and close contacts.
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“In Hong Kong, recent government mandates regarding Covid-19 testing have created unacceptable conditions for pilots, including our Hong Kong-based pilots and their families,” Dave Chase, chairman of the FedEx ALPA Master Executive Council, said.
“Not only do these situations pose unacceptable risks to our pilots’ safety and well-being, but they also create added stress and distraction for flight operations.”
He said pilots had to share a bathroom with “as many as five patients” at public hospitals, and the quarantine facilities have “very sparse provisions”.
Between July 8 and July 28, 17 aircrew tested positive for the virus, and of those, eight were pilots.
FedEx said the safety and well-being of its employees remained a top priority.
“The situation in Hong Kong is dynamic as the Hong Kong government adapts its policies to prevent a resurgence of the virus there,” it said in a statement. “We are fully engaged with government authorities to support our crew members in situations requiring medical treatment or self-isolation in Hong Kong.
“Our operations in Asia-Pacific are vital to our global network, and we are proud of the way our entire FedEx team has continued to operate through difficult circumstances to keep the global supply chain moving around the world.”
Hong Kong had largely kept the coronavirus pandemic under control until a third wave brought a week of triple-digit infections, with 106 new cases confirmed on Tuesday.
In a statement released overnight, the Hong Kong government said the city was at a “critical juncture” in its fight against the virus, which has seen the number of new cases rise by more than 100 a day for the past week.
“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,” it said.
Latest academic research has found the surge in infections was linked to people exempted from quarantine, including air and sea crews.
Increased measures by the government, which took effect on Wednesday, require aircrew to be tested before they fly to Hong Kong. They are also banned from taking public transport to avoid mixing with the general public, and must self-isolate in hotel rooms.
The United States has been the worst hit by the virus. It had recorded more than 4.3 million cases and almost 150,000 deaths as of Wednesday.
A 52-year-old FedEx pilot who arrived from the US on July 10 was found to have Covid-19 after airport testing, but not before taking a stroll through Tsim Sha Tsui and eating at a local restaurant.
The pilot was admitted to hospital on July 11 and discharged on July 21, before returning to America.
FedEx had six flights scheduled to depart Hong Kong on Wednesday, including to Liege, Paris, Osaka, Memphis, and two flights to Taipei.
It also is a major shareholder in the Asia Airfreight Terminal at Hong Kong International Airport. The US package delivery giant has its Asia-Pacific hub in neighbouring Guangzhou Baiyun Airport.
United Airlines and American Airlines had previously suspended Hong Kong flights, after its unions objected to crews being subjected to mandatory Covid-19 testing.
Brian Wu Pak-hei, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of Freight Forwarding and Logistics (HAFFA), said in the event of FedEx’s flight operations being affected, the impact on his members would be “quite small”.
“If pilots from other airlines followed this [stop to Hong Kong flights] then it is unpredictable. The size of FedEx in Hong Kong is quite small.”
HAFFA, which represents a large amount of cargo volume passing through Hong Kong, and its members use the likes of FedEx Express, DHL and UPS for the delivery of freight and packages by air and road.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Cheung
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