In Australia and Taiwan's fight against COVID, flight crews have proven their Achilles heel

In Australia and Taiwan’s fight against COVID, flight crews have proven their Achilles heel

(CNN) – Countries across the Asia-Pacific region have closed borders and imposed strict quarantine requirements, isolating themselves from the world.

But in many jurisdictions, there is a major exception to these rules: flight crews.

For months, flight crews in a number of places – including Taiwan and Australia – have avoided the strict quarantine rules imposed on other international travelers. But violations of the rules by airline employees at both places in December raised questions about whether the airline workers’ exceptions pose an unnecessary risk to the public.

Taiwan has it Now tightened Quarantine rules for flight crews, which two Australian states did in December.

But it is a difficult dilemma. While health experts say treating flight crews differently is a loophole in an otherwise difficult border approach, aviation industry officials say exemptions are needed to keep the industry running – and to avoid endangering the mental health of flight crews.

What happened in Australia and Taiwan?

When Taiwan reported its first locally transmitted case in more than 250 days on December 22, authorities quickly pointed to a foreign pilot as the source of infection.

Authorities said a New Zealand pilot in his 60s injured a woman in her 30s after she completed three days of self-quarantine required for pilots, according to Taiwanese state media. mentioned. This pilot has now been fined by Taiwan authorities for not disclosing his full contact record and being fired by his company.
Although the autonomous island reported its first case Back in January, Managed to avoid the coronavirus outbreak – In total, Taiwan has reported more than 800 coronavirus cases and only seven deaths. This success is largely attributed to its tough approach to the border: it closed the border in March Almost all non-residents The international arrivals demanded a 14-day home quarantine.
Except for the cabin crew. Under previous Taiwanese rules, the pilots only needed to be quarantined Three days While the hosts needed to quarantine five – the difference reportedly was that the last group had more person-to-person interaction. From January 1, crews need to spend seven days in quarantine after a long-haul flight and need to have a negative test before they are allowed to leave, Taiwan Centers for Disease Control Announced December 28.

Other places – including Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia – have also given airline crews an exemption from their strict border policies.

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Australian rules differed from state to state, but previously, Australian-based flight crews traveling to New South Wales were allowed to quarantine at home in place of quarantine facilities at state-run hotels, while international crews were required to quarantine in One of around 25 hotels until their next flight, although they were not as monitored by authorities as other international travelers.

It was strict by international standards, but still more relaxed than other incoming travelers had faced – two weeks in quarantine at a state-run hotel at their own expense.

But a series of incidents in December raised questions about whether this was the right approach. Truck driver from Sydney Who has the International cabin flight crew tested positive at the beginning of December.
Later that month, the New South Wales Police fined 13 international air crew members of A $ 1,000 ($ 760) each for going to a number of Sydney locations when they should have been quarantined. Just before Christmas, A. Qantas crew member Tests tested positive after traveling to Darwin from Paris and then boarding a domestic flight.
New South Wales now requires international crews to be quarantined in Two rhombuses Airport hotels where they are monitored by health authorities and police. Crew based in New South Wales You need to test Before leaving, but he can still isolate at home.
“We said all the time that this is a huge risk for us, but it is a risk we take because we want Australians to come home … and we want shipping back,” said New South Wales Prime Minister Gladys Peregiklian He said In December, the rules tightened around crews. “The problem is breaking the instructions, not the instructions themselves, and we can’t risk that.”

Why are flight crews treated differently

Even with severe restrictions in Australia and Taiwan, flight crews are still treated differently from other travelers. And in a number of jurisdictions, many crew members still do not have to quarantine at all.

In New Zealand, for example, Most of the cabin crew Excluded from the mandatory 14-day government-run quarantine due to “the importance of maintaining international air routes.” In Hong KongAir crew who did not visit A. High risk placeThey, including the US and UK, can test on arrival and can go for free once they test negative – far more lenient than a three-week hotel quarantine at their own expense faced by other international arrivals.
Part of the reason cabin crews are given an easier flight is the need for them to keep economies going and supply chains running. As the government of Hong Kong put it: “The arrangement of exemption was necessary to maintain the necessary operation of society and the economy, and to ensure a continuous supply of all daily necessities to the public.”

Albert Tjweng, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 290 airlines, said the crew was different from regular travelers – they make frequent flights, and they don’t wait to get out of quarantine to achieve their goal. Their journey, and they are well aware of the risks and requirements. “(The cabin crew) are fully aware of their livelihood vulnerabilities to any gaps in infection control,” said Tigwing.

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The exceptions were also out of concern for the mental health of the crews. Unlike regular travelers who may only take one trip home this year to see their family, flight crews often do international flights. This means that they may spend entire weeks or months in quarantine effectively.

This was the case for a Taiwan-based China Airlines captain who is estimated to have spent around 50 days in quarantine this year. He flies between Taipei and Sydney roughly once a month, and each time he’s required to quarantine for three days at each end.

The captain, who requested anonymity because he is not allowed to speak to the media, said he has dealt with quarantine, but this is a concern for both mental health, and enabling people to stay with and care for their families. Children. Days spent in quarantine are unpaid.

“I don’t think the entire community, or the company, or even the (Taiwanese) CDC really cares about our mental health, they just care about public health, and they don’t really care about that part of us,” he said.

Should quarantine rules be tightened?

Health experts argue that the exemptions create a potential loophole for the Coronavirus to infiltrate places that otherwise successfully kept it away.

“It seems to me that the risk of an airline crew infection is just as dangerous as the risk of a passenger arriving,” Burnt Institute epidemiologist Mike Tolle Tell Australian state station ABC in December. “It’s a potential vulnerability in the system, and we can’t afford that.”

Hong Kong, New Zealand, Taiwan and Australia have all been relatively successful otherwise in containing the outbreak, thanks in part to strict border policies.

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But the International Air Transport Association has called on governments to grant flight crews that do not interact with the public an exemption from quarantine requirements to ensure the continuation of cargo supply chains. Last March, the association’s general manager and chief executive said that delays in global supply chains “put lives at risk”.

“Air freight is a vital partner in the global battle against Covid-19,” He said Alexander de Juniac.

Tigwing of the International Air Transport Association said the stringent requirements “make it difficult for cabin crew who operate in those destinations.”

The International Civil Aviation Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations, has also called on governments to exclude cargo flight crew members from quarantine.

“There is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of the global air freight supply chain and to maintain the availability of vital medicines and equipment such as ventilators, masks and other health and hygiene items that will help limit the spread of Covid-19,” ICAO Secretary-General Fang Liu said in March.

As for the China Airlines pilot, he understands that Taiwan needs to extend the quarantine to make the public feel comfortable. But he wants the rules to be consistent.

Under the new requirements, pilots who are subject to a seven-day quarantine can return to work on long-haul flights if they have been quarantined for a period of three days. In the case of flight attendants, they must be subject to a five-day quarantine, the Cyprus News Agency mentioned. For the China Airlines pilot, this appears to put him at risk of catching co-workers – or injury, something he had feared during the pandemic.

He said: “They do not want us in the public or in the community, and they do not want us to infect others. But it seems that if my colleagues become infected, it is okay.”

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