Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific has warned that additional quarantine measures affecting flight crews entering Hong Kong could cause “dramatic disruptions to supply chains,” after the government mandated a three-day quarantine for returning air cargo crews. The Hong Kong airline, one of the world’s top airfreight carriers, plans to reduce its passenger and cargo flight schedules in the first quarter of 2022 as the tighter measures restrict operations, according to various media reports.
Andy Wong, general manager of corporate affairs, said Cathay Pacific is “wary” of additional quarantine arrangements beyond those announced Tuesday that would lead to flight reductions. “Such action would, in turn, cause dramatic disruptions to supply chains in the short term, jeopardising the adequate supply of essential goods in an already scarce supply chain environment, impacting the livelihoods of thousands of people in Hong Kong and undermining Hong Kong International Airport as a leading cargo hub,” Wong said in a statement to Nikkei Asia.
Hong Kong is intensifying efforts to maintain its “zero-COVID” strategy as the omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads across the globe. The government is also considering tightened quarantine measures for regular aircrews, said Dr. Edwin Tsui, controller of the city’s Centre for Health Protection. “We have to balance between the risk of infectious disease outbreaks and the cargo operation,” Tsui said.
Hong Kong International Airport led the world in air cargo volume for years before dropping to second place in 2020. US freight company FedEx decided last month to relocate all its Hong Kong-based pilots without exiting the market, threatening to undercut the city’s reputation as an Asian gateway.
Among the significant changes affecting Cathay is that all non-mainland China flights to and from Hong Kong must be operated by so-called “closed-loop aircrew” who will be required to spend up to two weeks in quarantine. This means even regional passenger services cannot be operated as “turnaround” flights without staff stepping foot off the plane at the destination. Under that rule, passenger aircrew could isolate at home. Cathay operates many of its long-haul services under a closed loop – which will be extended to Asian flights – further placing stress on the beleaguered carrier. The airline’s closed-loop arrangement means most crews operate flights for three weeks and then spend up to two weeks in hotel quarantine before returning home. These types of work patterns are voluntary and not popular with crew, with concerns about the strain on their mental health in isolation, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.