British Airways has suspended flights between the United Kingdom and Hong Kong after crew members tested positive for COVID-19. On November 20 and then again on November 27, two BA crew members on flight number BA027 tested positive for the virus.
One positive crew member has returned to England, while the other person and all the crew aboard the same aircraft were sent to the Penny Bay quarantine center in Hong Kong. Because of Hong Kong’s stringent COVID-19 entry rules, British Airways decided to temporarily suspend flights rather than have its pilots and cabin crew run the risk of being stranded in the territory. Hong Kong is pursuing a zero-COVID-19 cases policy as it strives to reopen its border with mainland China.
Omicron is a significant worry
According to the information posted on the Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) website, today’s flight to London, BA027, has been canceled, as have flights BA028 and BA3591 scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. Also canceled are BA028 flights on Monday and Tuesday. BA3591 on Tuesday afternoon is also axed. All British Airways flights that were due to land in Hong Kong today have also been canceled.
The primary concern at the moment is the new coronavirus mutation that the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling “Omicron.” Unlike the Delta variant, which has two mutations, the Omicron variant has ten, leading health experts to worry that it could be more contagious and resistant to current vaccines. Despite the variant being centered around southern Africa, the United Kindom and Hong Kong have reported people infected with Omicron.
BA is supporting its crew in Hong Kong
When commenting on the situation, a spokesperson for British Airways told the BBC the following:
“We’re supporting crew who are currently isolating in Hong Kong. We work within local regulations for every country we fly to and always put the safety and wellbeing of our teams and customers at the heart of everything we do.”
Both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic canceled flights to South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini (Swaziland) after the UK government issued a travel ban. Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, and Zambia also got added to the UK red list on Sunday.
This means that anyone arriving from the above countries who are not UK or Irish citizens or UK residents will not be allowed into the country. Those that are permitted must quarantine for ten days in a pre-booked government-approved hotel at their own expense.
A massive blow for the travel industry
The aviation industry is currently fearing that countries will have to take drastic action to stop the spread of the Omicron variant, including border closures and hard quarantines. When commenting about the effect it will have on travel, a spokesperson for the travel industry trade body (ABTA) told the BBC:
“We understand that this is a rapidly evolving situation, and public health must come first. The decision to require all arrivals to take a PCR test and self-isolate until a negative result is returned is a huge blow for travel businesses, many of whom were only just starting to get back on their feet after 20 months of severe restrictions.”
Stock market shares, including those of British Airways owners IAG, tumbled on Friday following the news of the new COVID-19 strain. It is not only the travel industry who is worried either, with the hospitality sector concerned that new restrictions could be placed on them in the run-up to Christmas.
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