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Airlines Urge Hong Kong to Drop COVID-19 Testing for Pilots and Flight Attendants

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When the Chinese colony loosens travel restrictions next month, eleven major airlines have banded together to demand that the Hong Kong government withdraw required COVID-19 testing for pilots and cabin workers.

The airlines, which include British Airways and United, claim that the current testing regulations are out of date and make flying to Hong Kong nearly impossible.

Flight crews are subjected to additional COVID-19 swabs on arrival in addition to pre-departure tests. If a member of the crew tests positive, they may be transported to a quarantine camp and their coworkers may be labeled as “close contacts.”

After many groups of the flight crew were taken to the now-infamous quarantine camp in Penny’s Bay, British Airways eventually ceased flights to Hong Kong. The quarantine period was three weeks at the time, however, the Hong Kong government has since lowered the amount of time positive cases must isolate.

British Airways was able to withdraw its crews before the three-week quarantine period ended in each case, although it took high-level diplomatic intervention in each case.

British Airways complained to the Civil Aviation Authority that the enforced quarantine was causing “mental health” issues.

Flight crews from Virgin Atlantic, Finnair, and FedEx Express all had comparable experiences.

“Hong Kong’s restrictions are now an outlier globally and, importantly, at odds with best practices,” the letter to Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam reads. Other signatories of the letter seen by Bloomberg include FedEx Express, Air Canada, Japan Airlines and Air New Zealand.

In April, Lam plans to relax some travel restrictions, including lifting a total travel ban on nine nations, including the United Kingdom and the United States. Airlines, on the other hand, are unlikely to resume operations right away because post-arrival COVID-19 testing for flight crews is still in effect.

Some carriers may fly to a third nation and then operate a shuttle service to Hong Kong, although this adds cost and complication to the process.

While the airlines write in the letter that they “want a return to normal flying operations in Hong Kong,” they also indicate they are open to considering a “closed-loop” system that effectively separates flight crew from the general public, eliminating the need for testing.

Although flight crews must test negative for COVID-19 before boarding flights, Hong Kong is thought to have tested for substantially lower virus rates. As a result, flight crews who had recovered from Coronavirus weeks or months before to flying to Hong Kong continued to test positive with Hong Kong’s tests.

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