The government in Hong Kong blamed the flagship airline, Cathay Pacific, for the spread of Omicron last week. Two crew were accused of spreading the highly transmissible variant in the city, breaching their home bicyle, and going shopping or meeting friends. The government launched inquiries and threatened legal action as the numbers rose, as infections flow charts were published marking cases with the airline's brand. State media and pro-Beijing figures called for punishment.
The airline had been punished for carrying Covid-positive passengers and had just been allowed to fly on key international routes. After a pilot tested positive and three other crew members also did, the rules for sterilizing aircraft were tightened, and they were again after the latest incidents.
The airline was accused of sending some crew back to the territory on empty cargo flights in order to access shorter periods of sterilization.
We will take legal action once we have the full evidence of what happened, and this has to be put under full investigation.
The pro-Beijing camp appears to be circulating charts like this in order to distract attention from the government A-list.
January 13, 2022.
The accusations are the latest chapter in a troubled few years for Cathay, as it navigates Hong Kong's Covid-19 measures as well as changing politics. The staff of the airline are facing unheard of job requirements as a result of the action taken against them. In the last year, Cathay staff spent a total of 76,000 nights in Hong Kong.
When international travel plummeted in 2020 and 2021, the whole aviation industry was hurt, but Cathay was the only one that didn't have a domestic market. The flights between Hong Kong and London used to be every day. The airline pivoted to cargo. Despite receiving a $5 billion government bail out in June of 2020, the company reported a loss and cut thousands of jobs. In the first six months of the year, there was a $972m loss.
The government found its way into the bad books when it refused to sanction any staff who participated in the pro-democracy protests. In August of that year, the Chinese civil aviation authority banned crew members from working on flights in or out of mainland China. At least 26 staff who participated in the protests were fired after a management change.
The airport has just 165 passengers.
The chair of the European chamber of commerce in Hong Kong said that the flag carrier is in deep trouble. Cathay has a social function for Hong Kong for decades.
It is not a good sign to see almost all flight activity for passenger flights and the reduced capacity on the cargo side happening at the moment, as a result of very strict regulations for Covid-19.
We are extremely thankful to the crew and the company for doing everything they can to keep us connected to the outside world. Also the international carriers who do the same.
A woman walks past an empty counter at Hong Kong international airport. The picture was taken by Lam Yik.
Hong Kong has some of the strictest border restrictions in the world, banning flights from seven countries and transit passengers from 140. On a single day last week, 165 people flew into the airport, which used to be one of the busiest in the world.
Thousands of close contacts are forced into government quark atPenny's Bay, while arrivals must go into 21 days of expensive quark. The centres reached breaking point this week after the Omicron outbreak, with reports of power outages, food shortages and people being held for longer than they were supposed to be.
The crew's actions were serious, but the pressure on the airline appeared to grow as the government faced scrutiny for breaching guidelines on avoiding large gatherings. Junius Ho, a pro-Beijing firebrand, took to social media to rail against the government's system having finally experienced it for himself, after legislators were sent toPenny's Bay after attending a birthday party with a suspected case.
Despite demanding that the senior management take responsibility for their subordinates, she distanced herself from taking responsibility.
The airline apologized for the disruption and anguish caused by the crew members who were reportedly fired. The chair of the airline said the alleged breeches overshadow the majority who had been professional under incredibly challenging conditions.
In the last month, the rules for airline crews in Hong Kong have changed a lot. Staff shortages, flight cancellation and the suspension of cargo services are just some of the problems that have arisen because of heightened segull rules.
On Christmas Day last year, 25 imported cases of coronaviruses were found, and Korean Air, Emirates and Cathay were banned from running certain routes. In December, the government ordered flights to and out of mainland China to only be staffed by crew from a "closed loop" of flights and hotels for a period of weeks before heading home.
Grace Siu, the external vice-chair for the airline's flight attendants union, said that the crew who joined were just travelling from hotel to aircraft for months.
She said there was little notice for staff when the rules changed.
Many of us were not in Hong Kong, we were outside the city or in flight, and were told to go to the hotel to be scurried and not home.
Siu said the union did not have data on staff who have left, but it did have a lot of queries from struggling members. She said that most staff had complied with rules that have taken an enormous toll, as they have done on flight crews around the world, and that the crackdown over a couple of breeches had hit hard.
Sui said that it affects the whole crew.
The meme was posted to the airline union's Facebook page. A young snorkel wearing boy gives a thumbs up from the mouth of a great white shark in a retro illustration. The image says stay positive.
Andy Wong, the general manager of corporate affairs at Cathay, said on 31 December that further restrictions would lead to dramatic disruptions to the supply chain and could lead to reductions in flights in order to protect crew and maintain general safety.
The city had no choice but to fight the outbreak because of the new rules, but on Tuesday Lam told people to prepare for higher prices and item shortages.
The international business community raised their concerns with the government last year, but they were worried about the crisis. It is increasingly difficult to maintain a life in Hong Kong with family abroad or to attract staff to the city because of the high cost of living.
He said that the international community has been very resilient in those two years, but energy levels are close to zero.
In a video message to staff, he thanked them for their sacrifice during the Pandemic.
You have been through a lot over the past two years.