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Cathay Pacific fires three pilots over Frankfurt layover COVID-19 breach

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Three cargo pilots from Cathay Pacific have been dismissed after contracting COVID-19 during layovers in a hotel near Frankfurt, Germany earlier this month.

Hundreds of pilots, cabin crew, and other ‘close contacts’ were confined to an infamous quarantine camp for 21 days as a result of the extremely rare outbreak among the Hong Kong-based airline’s workforce.

Cathay Pacific said in a statement that the three foreign pilots were no longer employed by the company after an internal inquiry revealed “a major infringement of requirements during crew overseas layovers.”

Airline crews must self-isolate in their hotel rooms during foreign layovers under Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong’s rigorous infection prevention measures, even if the host government does not impose any pandemic-related limitations, as Germany does.

Most airline crew members who live in Hong Kong must still enter quarantine upon their return to the territory to avoid mistakes, but freight pilots are free.

During their time in Germany, the three afflicted pilots informed authorities from Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection that they did not leave their rooms and did not attend any parties.

The results of Cathay Pacific’s internal investigation are being kept under wraps, but the pilots have been fired, and the Transport and Housing Bureau expressed its “deeply regretful and can hardly accept the concerned cargo crew’s non-compliance with the requirements of the closed-loop operation during their layover”.

The ‘closed-loop operation’ is a quarantine and isolation process in effect for Hong Kong-based airline crews who go internationally.

“Though noting that these are individual cases, considering the severity of the incident, the THB has already directed Cathay Pacific to follow up on the matter seriously and to maker the best endeavors in preventing the occurrence of similar incidents,” the statement from the bureau continued.

Cathay Pacific has begun stationing security officers in hotel corridors of all foreign layover hotels to keep an eye on its personnel and ensure that they do not leave their rooms during layovers.

Authorities in Hong Kong have detained roughly 150 pilots and cabin staff who had been staying at the same hotel since the beginning of November and transported them to the Penny’s Bay quarantine camp.

Some family members and other ‘close contacts’ were also transferred to the facility, where they would be held for 21 days before being released.

FedEx Express announced earlier this week that it would permanently close its Hong Kong pilots base in order to provide more assurance to aircrew based in the territory as a result of the territory’s response to the cluster.

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