‘Deep trouble’: Cathay Pacific descends further as punitive pandemic worsens | Hong Kong

As Omicron unfold to at the least 50 folks in Hong Kong final week the federal government regarded to 1 place specifically for blame – town’s flagship airline, Cathay Pacific. Two crew had been accused of breaching their house quarantine, going purchasing or assembly buddies, and spreading the extremely transmissible variant within the metropolis. As numbers rose, an infection move charts had been revealed marking instances with the airline’s model whereas the federal government launched inquiries and threatened authorized motion. Professional-Beijing figures and state media referred to as for punishment.

The airline had simply come off a authorities ban on flying key worldwide routes, a punishment for carrying Covid-positive passengers. Across the similar time the ban was imposed in late December, quarantine guidelines had been tightened after a pilot examined optimistic, after which once more simply days later after three crew additionally did, after which once more after the newest incidents.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s chief govt, Carrie Lam, described the airline as “a really large noncompliance case” and accused it of sending some crew again to the territory on empty cargo flights to entry shorter quarantine intervals.

“This must be put below full investigation, and we’ll take authorized motion as soon as we have now the complete proof of what improper they went into,” Lam mentioned.


The accusations are the newest chapter in a troubled few years for Cathay, as it navigated Hong Kong’s Covid-19 measures as nicely as altering politics. The punitive motion towards the airline has broken morale as employees face job necessities unparalleled simply three years in the past. Final 12 months, Cathay employees spent a complete of 200 years – 76,000 nights – in resort quarantine or in Hong Kong’s authorities facility at Penny’s Bay.

The entire aviation business suffered when worldwide journey plummeted in 2020 and 2021, however Cathay was uniquely weak with no home market to fall again on. Flights between Hong Kong and London had been minimize from 5 to at most one a day. The airline pivoted to cargo however that too suffered. Cathy reported a $2.8bn (£2bn) loss in 2020 and minimize hundreds of jobs, regardless of receiving a $5bn authorities bailout in June of that 12 months. A $972m loss was reported within the first six months of 2021.

Cathay had already discovered its means into the federal government’s unhealthy books in mid-2019, when it refused to sanction any employees who participated within the pro-democracy protests. In August that 12 months, the Chinese language civil aviation authority banned Cathay crew members who had protested from staffing flights in or out of mainland China. After a administration change, at the least 26 employees who participated within the protests had been later reportedly fired.

A busy airport to simply 165 passengers

“It’s fairly apparent that the flag service for Hong Kong is in serious trouble,” mentioned Frederik Gollob, the chair of the European chamber of commerce in Hong Kong. “Cathay is in fact a company firm however has additionally had a social perform for Hong Kong for many years.

“It’s actually not an incredible signal seeing nearly all flight exercise for passenger flights [drop] and the considerably decreased capability on the cargo aspect taking place in the meanwhile, as a results of very strict rules for Covid-19.

“We’re extraordinarily grateful to all of the Cathay crew and the corporate for doing every part they’ll to maintain us linked to the surface world and maintaining items move. Additionally the worldwide carriers who do the identical.”

A woman walks past empty counters of Cathay Pacific at Hong Kong international airport in January 2022.
A girl walks previous empty counters of Cathay Pacific at Hong Kong worldwide airport in January 2022. {Photograph}: Lam Yik/Reuters

Hong Kong’s pandemic border restrictions are among the many strictest on the earth, with bans on flights from seven nations and transit passengers from one other 140. On a single day final week, simply 165 folks flew into what was as soon as one of many world’s 10 busiest airports.

Arrivals should go into 21 days of pricy quarantine, whereas hundreds of shut contacts are additionally pressured into authorities quarantine at Penny’s Bay. After the Omicron outbreak the centres this week reached breaking point, with reviews of energy outages, meals shortages and other people confined for longer than ordered as a result of employees had been too overrun to launch them.

Deflecting consideration

The breaches by crew had been critical, however observers have additionally famous the stress on Cathay appeared to develop as the federal government confronted scrutiny on legislators who had been additionally accused of breaching tips on avoiding giant gatherings. Dozens of legislators had been despatched to Penny’s Bay after they attended a celebration with a suspected case, together with the pro-Beijing firebrand Junius Ho, who took to social media to rail towards the federal government’s system having lastly skilled it for himself.

Questioned in regards to the comparability, Lam distanced herself from taking duty for subordinates regardless of demanding Cathay’s senior administration to take action days earlier.


Cathay has mentioned it can cooperate with each inquiries, and apologised for the “disruption and anguish” for the “unacceptable noncompliance” by the crew members, who’ve reportedly been fired. However the airline’s chair, Patrick Healy, mentioned the alleged breaches overshadow the overwhelming majority who had been skilled below “extremely difficult situations”.

The principles for airline crews in Hong Kong have modified steadily, particularly within the final month. Tightened quarantine guidelines have led to employees shortages, flight cancellations and the suspension of cargo companies – the one arm nonetheless earning money.

On Christmas Day final 12 months, 25 imported instances of coronavirus had been discovered – Korean Air, Emirates and Cathay had been banned from operating explicit routes. Additionally in December the federal government ordered flights working out and in of mainland China may solely be staffed by crew from a “closed loop” of flights and resort quarantines for consecutive weeks earlier than heading house after one other fortnight in quarantine.

“The crew who joined which can be actually simply travelling from resort to plane, plane to resort for months,” mentioned Grace Siu, the exterior vice-chair for the airline’s flight attendants union.

When the principles modified after the breach, there was little discover for workers, she mentioned.

“Many people weren’t in Hong Kong, we had been outdoors town or in flight, and received the message that we have now to go to the resort to do quarantine and never house.”

Siu mentioned the union didn’t have knowledge on employees who’ve left, however it does area loads of queries from struggling members. She mentioned most employees had complied with guidelines which have taken an unlimited toll, as they’ve performed on flight crews globally, including that the crackdown over a few breaches had hit laborious.

“In fact it impacts the entire crew’s morale,” Sui mentioned.

Earlier this month the airline union posted a meme to its Facebook page. Within the retro illustration styled as a Fifties vacation scene, a younger snorkel-wearing boy offers a thumbs up from the mouth of an incredible white shark. Under the picture says: “Keep Constructive!”

Further restrictions

On 31 December, Andy Wong, the final supervisor of company affairs at Cathay, said further restrictions would result in dramatic disruptions to the provision chain, and will result in reductions in flights with the intention to defend crew and preserve basic security.

On Tuesday Lam instructed folks to arrange for larger costs and merchandise shortages due to the brand new guidelines, however that town had no alternative in the event that they had been to combat the outbreak.

Gollob mentioned the worldwide enterprise group had raised their considerations with authorities final 12 months, however the persevering with disaster fearful them. It’s more and more troublesome to take care of a life in Hong Kong with household overseas, or to draw employees to town – together with airline crews for both a everlasting stationing or just manning a flight that might finish with them in Penny’s Bay for weeks.

“I really feel that the worldwide group has been extraordinarily resilient in these two years however vitality ranges are, I’d say, near zero, and it’s more and more laborious to take care of the established order,” he mentioned.

In a video message to employees, Healy thanked them for his or her sacrifices in the course of the pandemic, together with prolonged time separated from household.

“What you will have been by way of in the course of the previous two years is kind of merely unparalleled.”

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