Hong Kong’s COVID-19 rules take a mental toll on Cathay pilots


By Jamie Freed

(Reuters) – One of Asia’s biggest airlines, Cathay Pacific, faces revolt from pilots who say Hong Kong’s strict quarantine rules as part of its zero COVID policy put their health at risk mental, leading to increased stress and quitting.

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd fired last week https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/cathay-pacific-fires-3-pilots-infected-with-covid-19-layover-scmp-2021-11-18 three pilots who broke company rules by leaving their hotel rooms during a layover in Frankfurt and then tested positive for COVID-19.

The government responded by forcing more than 270 people, including schoolchildren linked to their families, to move into tiny neighborhoods in a state quarantine camp https://www.reuters.com/article/us -health-coronavirus-hongkong-families-idUSKBN2B711T.

Some pilots declared themselves unfit to fly https://www.instagram.com/p/CWr6BPRh8N9 for their first duties upon release.

Extreme example of pandemic precautions under China’s zero COVID policy highlights the harsh working conditions facing Cathay pilots, all fully vaccinated, even as other Asian countries reopen slowly.

Cathay’s rivals, including Australia’s Qantas Airways Ltd, have started to relax their strict stopover policies, but the Hong Kong government is tightening the rules further in line with those on the mainland, hoping to convince Beijing to allow cross-border travel.

“I don’t think I can go on like this,” a Cathay pilot told Reuters who requested anonymity. “Only the stress of a potential quarantine of my family and friends takes its toll.”

Several other current and recently departed Cathay pilots told Reuters morale was low and resignations were on the rise a year after many saw their wages permanently reduced https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cathay -pacific-layoffs-idUSKBN2780L0 as 58%.

Extreme stress is a big problem in an industry where any sign of psychological problems can make it difficult to get another job.

“What’s the risk if I tell them I’m a little stressed?” Asked a pilot who has spent more than 200 nights locked in hotel rooms far from Hong Kong since the start of the pandemic. “Does this affect my health? And then you go out of here and they ask if you’ve ever been fired for psychological reasons? “

The pilots also expressed their frustration at the ambiguity of some pandemic-related rules imposed by the government. Pilots, for example, are required to avoid “unnecessary social contact” for three weeks after returning to Hong Kong, but they are not given time off to compensate.

Cathay admitted to Reuters in a statement that pilot resignations had exceeded normal levels since late October.

“Unfortunately, the Frankfurt incident has affected the current sentiment,” the airline said.

DIFFICULT LISTS

Hong Kong classifies many destinations, including the United States and Great Britain, as “high risk”, meaning that Cathay pilots carrying passengers from these locations are subject to two weeks of quarantine at the time. ‘hotel.

To staff these flights, Cathay began running ‘closed loop’ lists on a voluntary basis in February involving five consecutive weeks locked in hotel rooms without access to fresh air or a gym, then two weeks off at home.

“I did it for the money, because the 50% pay cut (last year) made life a lot more difficult,” said a recently departed driver who did two closed loops. “There are people currently in their 5th or 6th closed loop.”

Cathay said Thursday that some inbound flights during the high demand season in December would be canceled, indicating a lack of volunteers.

The airline said it recognizes the pressure on its pilots and holds call sessions every two weeks to share concerns and programs like a peer-based pilot support network, as well as time off. extended.

LEAVING HONG KONG

As conditions improve elsewhere in the world, other airlines, including Emirates and U.S. cargo carrier Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc, are looking for Cathay pilots, those who spoke to Reuters said.

Emirates, which has launched a recruitment drive for 600 pilots, declined to comment. Atlas did not respond to a request for comment.

Pilots Reuters spoke to said they expected more resignations next year when transitional housing and education allowances expire.

Cathay said she would employ “several hundred” new pilots and restart her cadet program over the next year.

Strict Hong Kong rules led FedEx Corp to shut down its pilot base in the city last week, underlining the territory’s grim appeal as a major logistics hub.

“I really, really feel for the people who are at Cathay,” said a FedEx pilot who recently left Hong Kong. “I am really concerned about their mental health and their condition.”

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Miyoung Kim and Stephen Coates)


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