In the wake of the outbreak of the deadly Wuhan Coronavirus, Cathay Pacific has decided to allow all its staff to wear facemasks on all flights and during frontline ground duties with immediate effect. Cathay, along with other airlines, is also allowing passengers no quibble refunds or free flight changes on any route to or from Wuhan.
Cathay crew will be allowed facemasks
We reported yesterday that Cathay staff had requested to be allowed to wear facemasks while undertaking their roles on long haul flights. It seems the airline has heard their pleas and has agreed to allow the wearing of facemasks for both flight crew and frontline staff on the ground. A memo sent to employees by the airline read,
Due to the evolving information from health authorities, we will allow crew members and frontline airport employees to wear surgical face masks when on duty at their discretion.
We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to coordinate with the health authorities in Hong Kong and all the ports to which we operate flights. As required by the Hong Kong health authorities, we are now distributing health declaration forms and will be making face masks and antiseptic wipes available at the boarding gate to passengers traveling from Wuhan to Hong Kong.
Our frontline staff are reminded to maintain good personal and environmental hygiene, and to remain alert and vigilant while being on the lookout for passengers presenting with infectious disease symptoms. We have in place “Suspected Infectious Disease Procedures and Guidelines”, which are based on the guidelines of the International Air Transport Association.
Other airlines in China are offering passengers full refunds or free flight changes on trips to or from Wuhan. Business Traveler reports that the airlines offering this benefit include:
Air China, Capital Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Cathay Dragon, Chengdu Airlines, China Airlines and Mandarin Airlines, China Eastern, China Southern, China United Airlines, Juneyao Airlines, Lucky Air, Hainan Airlines, OK Air, Scoot, Shandong Airlines, Shenzhen Airlines, Spring Airlines, Suparna Airlines, Tianjin Airlines, West Air, Urumqi Air and Xiamen Air.
This followed a statement from the Chinese civil aviation regulator, CAAC, requesting that,
“…all transportation airlines attach great importance to passenger service while doing a good job in the prevention and control of pneumonia outbreaks of new coronavirus infection.”
The spread of the virus
The Wuhan Coronavirus is fast becoming a major blight on an otherwise optimistic start to 2020. In China, hundreds of people have fallen ill with the virus and at least 17 have died. Just yesterday, the USA reported its first case; a man in Washington had been confirmed to be infected after returning from China on January 15th.
Known to be transmitted from person to person, the virus could easily spread around the world. However, it is those who are closest to the infected that will be most at risk. One patient in Wuhan was confirmed to have infected at least 14 medical workers while he was receiving treatment.
With Lunar New Year almost upon us and millions of Chinese expected to travel during the celebration, Cathay Pacific crew were likely to be some of the most exposed workers out there. In China, many people have already begun wearing face masks in an attempt to prevent infection. It seems only right that Cathay’s crew be allowed the same protection.
What’s the world doing about Wuhan Coronavirus?
In the USA, three airports are undertaking a screening program for the virus. Flights arriving to JFK, LAX and SFO from Wuhan, both direct and indirect, have been undergoing screening since Saturday, in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading.
Across the pond in the UK, the Department of Health has announced that it will be monitoring all passengers arriving on flights from China. Specifically, it will be checking passengers on flights to Heathrow from Wuhan, with a section of Terminal 4 being isolated from the rest of the airport. The BBC reports that a health team will be on hand in the terminal to check passengers for symptoms.
Elsewhere, airports in Australia and a number of destinations in Asia have begun screening passengers arriving from the affected region. In Wuhan itself, passengers at airports and also at railways stations have been undergoing screening since January 14th.
The World Health Organization is meeting today in Geneva to assess the global risk posed by the virus. They will likely decide whether to call an international public health emergency, such as they did with Ebola and swine flu, or whether the situation can be controlled.
For now, the advice is to take extra precaution when traveling, and to visit a medical expert if any flu-like symptoms are experienced.