‘Deep issues’: Cathay Pacific escalates as punitive pandemic escalates | hong kong
AAs Omicron spread to at least 50 people in Hong Kong last week, the government turned to one place in particular for blame – the city’s flagship airline, Cathay Pacific. Two crew members were charged with violating their home quarantine, going shopping or meeting friends and spreading the highly transmissible variant in the city. As the numbers grew, infection flowcharts were released, marking cases with the airline’s branding as the government launched investigations and threatened legal action. Pro-Beijing figures and state media have called for sanctions.
The airline had just emerged from a government ban on key international routes, a punishment for carrying Covid-positive passengers. Around the same time the ban was imposed in late December, quarantine rules were tightened after a pilot tested positive, then again a few days later after three crew members tested him. also done, then again after the latest incidents.
On Tuesday, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam described the airline as “a very big case of non-compliance” and accused it of sending some of the crew back to the territory on flights from empty cargo to access shorter quarantine periods.
“This needs to be fully investigated, and we will take legal action once we have all the evidence of the wrongs they have done,” Lam said.
The charges are the latest chapter in a troubled few years for Cathay as she navigated Hong Kong’s Covid-19 measures as well as changing politics. The punitive action against the airline has undermined morale as staff face job demands unheard of just three years ago. Last year, Cathay staff spent a total of 200 years – 76,000 nights – in quarantine at a hotel or at Hong Kong government facilities in Penny’s Bay.
The entire aviation industry suffered as international travel plummeted in 2020 and 2021, but Cathay was particularly vulnerable, with no domestic market to fall back on. Flights between Hong Kong and London have been increased from five to a maximum per day. The airline shifted to cargo, but that too suffered. Cathy reported a $2.8bn (£2bn) loss in 2020 and cut thousands of jobs, despite receiving a $5bn government bailout in June of the same year. A loss of $972 million was reported in the first six months of 2021.
Cathay had already found his way into the government’s bad books in mid-2019, when he refused to sanction any staff who took part in the pro-democracy protests. In August of the same year, China’s Civil Aviation Authority banned Cathay crew members who had protested from providing flights to or from mainland China. After a leadership change, at least 26 staff members who took part in the protests were reportedly later fired.
A busy airport for only 165 passengers
“It is quite obvious that the flag carrier of Hong Kong is in big trouble,” said Frederik Gollob, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. “Cathay is of course a business, but also has had a social function for Hong Kong for decades.
“It’s definitely not a good sign to see almost all flight activity for passenger flights [drop] and the greatly reduced capacity on the freight side that is happening now, due to very strict regulations for Covid-19.
“We are extremely grateful to the entire Cathay team and the company for doing everything possible to keep us connected to the outside world and keep the flow of goods flowing. Also international carriers who do the same.
Hong Kong’s pandemic border restrictions are among the strictest in the world, with bans on flights from seven countries and transit passengers from 140 others. In a single day last week, just 165 people flew to what was once one of the 10 busiest airports in the world.
Arrivals must go through 21 days of costly quarantine, while thousands of close contacts are also being forced into government quarantine at Penny’s Bay. After the Omicron outbreak, centers reached a breaking point this week, with reports of power outages, food shortages and people confined longer than expected because staff were too overwhelmed to release them. .
The crew’s failings were serious, but observers also noted that the pressure on Cathay appeared to be mounting as the government faced scrutiny from lawmakers who were also accused of breaching guidelines on avoiding large gatherings. Dozens of lawmakers were sent to Penny’s Bay after attending a birthday party with a suspected case, including pro-Beijing pro-Beijing Junius Ho, who took to social media to speak out against the government system after finally experiencing it for himself.
Asked about the comparison, Lam distanced herself from the responsibility of subordinates despite the fact that she had asked Cathay’s senior management to do so a few days earlier.
Cathay said he would cooperate with both investigations and apologized for the “disruption and anguish” over the “unacceptable non-compliance” by crew members, who would have been fired. But airline chairman Patrick Healy said the alleged breaches eclipsed the overwhelming majority who had been working professionally under “incredibly difficult conditions”.
The rules for airline crew in Hong Kong have changed frequently, especially over the past month. Tighter quarantine rules have led to staff shortages, flight cancellations and the suspension of cargo services – the only arm still making money.
On Christmas Day last year, 25 imported cases of coronavirus were discovered – Korean Air, Emirates and Cathay were banned from operating particular routes. Also in December, the government ordered that flights operating to and from mainland China could only be manned from a ‘closed loop’ of flights and hotel quarantines for weeks. consecutive before returning home after another fortnight in quarantine.
“The crew that joined this are literally just flying from hotel to plane, plane to hotel for months,” said Grace Siu, external vice president of the airline’s flight attendant union. Aerial.
When the rules changed after the breach, there was little notice for staff, she said.
“Many of us weren’t in Hong Kong, we were out of town or on a flight, and received the message that we should go to hotels to quarantine and not at home.”
Siu said the union does not have data on staff who have left, but is answering many questions from struggling members. She said most staff had complied with rules that had taken their toll, as they did for flight crews around the world, adding that the crackdown on a few breaches had hit hard.
“Of course it affects the morale of the whole crew,” Sui said.
Earlier this month, the airline union posted a meme on its Facebook page. In the retro illustration designed as a 1950s vacation scene, a young boy wearing a snorkel raises his thumb from the mouth of a great white shark. Below, the image reads: “Stay positive!”
On December 31, Andy Wong, managing director of corporate affairs at Cathay, said further restrictions would cause dramatic supply chain disruptions and could lead to flight reductions to protect crew and maintain general safety. .
On Tuesday, Lam told people to prepare for higher prices and shortages of items due to the new rules, but that the city had no choice if it had to fight the outbreak.
Gollob said the international business community raised concerns with the government last year, but they were worried about the continuing crisis. It is increasingly difficult to maintain a life in Hong Kong with family overseas, or to attract staff to the city – including airline crews for permanent parking or simply to operate a flight that could end with them in Penny’s Bay for weeks.
“I think the international community has been extremely resilient over these two years, but the energy levels are, I would say, close to zero, and it’s getting harder and harder to maintain the status quo,” he said. he declared.
In a video message to staff, Healy thanked them for their sacrifices during the pandemic, including the extended time apart from family.
“What you have been through for the past two years is simply unprecedented.”