Locked in hotels: Hong Kong's COVID-19 rules take mental toll on Cathay pilots

26/11/2021 6:02:00 AM

Locked in hotels: Hong Kong's COVID-19 rules take mental toll on Cathay pilots

Locked in hotels: Hong Kong's COVID-19 rules take mental toll on Cathay pilots

One of Asia\u0027s largest airlines, Cathay Pacific, is facing a revolt from pilots who say Hong Kong\u0027s tough quarantine rules under its zero-COVID policies are endangering their mental health, leading to rising stress and resignations. Cathay Pacific Airways last week

who breached company rules by leaving their hotel rooms during a layover in Frankfurt and later tested positive for COVID-19.The extreme example of pandemic-related precautions under China's zero-COVID policy highlights the difficult working conditions facing Cathay pilots, all fully vaccinated, even as other Asian countries slowly reopen.

Several other current and recently departed Cathay pilots told Reuters morale was low and resignations were rising a year after many had their pay permanently cut by as much as 58 per cent.The pilots also expressed frustration with the ambiguity of some government-imposed pandemic-related rules. 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.

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One of Asia's largest airlines, Cathay Pacific, is facing a revolt from pilots who say Hong Kong's tough quarantine rules under its zero-COVID policies are endangering their mental health, leading to rising stress and resignations.LinkedIn HONG KONG: Gently unwrapping clingfilm covering the old man's damaged feet - skin darkened and cracked, nails lumpen and deformed - the Hong Kong beautician doesn't flinch.LinkedIn HONG KONG: Hong Kong and Chinese authorities said a meeting on Thursday (Nov 25) moved them closer to partially reopening the border between them, as the two governments dig their heels in as among the last in the world pursuing a zero-COVID-19 strategy.Commentary: Singapore and Germany, two countries and one aim of living normally with COVID-19 "ACUTE OVERLOAD" In a sign of the severity of the virus wave hitting Germany, its health sector has had to call on hospitals elsewhere in the European Union for help.

Cathay Pacific Airways last week fired three pilots who breached company rules by leaving their hotel rooms during a layover in Frankfurt and later tested positive for COVID-19. The government responded by forcing more than 270 people, including school children linked to their families, into tiny quarters at a state quarantine camp. Once to twice a month, Cass Ng and her team of beauticians swap out their nail polish collection for tough scissors, nail files and an electric drill. Some pilots declared themselves unfit to fly for their first rostered duties upon release. "Good progress was made in the meeting on exploring the resumption of quarantine-free travel between the mainland and Hong Kong in a gradual and orderly manner," the former British colony's government said in a statement. The extreme example of pandemic-related precautions under China's zero-COVID policy highlights the difficult working conditions facing Cathay pilots, all fully vaccinated, even as other Asian countries slowly reopen. "We want to serve these people the most because they lack others' love the most," the 37-year-old told AFP. Cathay rivals including Australia's Qantas Airways have begun unwinding strict layover policies but the Hong Kong government is tightening rules further in line with China, hoping to convince Beijing to allow cross-border travel. Incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz has voiced support for compulsory vaccinations for health staff, and said that his government would"do everything necessary to bring our country safely through this time".

"I don't think I can keep this up," one Cathay pilot who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters. (Photo: AFP/Isaac Lawrence) After three years of giving volunteer manicures, Ng was inspired to start her own social enterprise to help those - often aged 65 or older and on social benefits - unable to afford the city's expensive private healthcare. Near term, Hong Kong has to launch its own version of China's Health Code mobile tracing app and prepare boundary control points for the opening, the city's government said."Just the stress of potential quarantine of my family and friends is taking a toll." Several other current and recently departed Cathay pilots told Reuters morale was low and resignations were rising a year after many had their pay permanently cut by as much as 58 per cent. One of those visiting Ng's free clinic for the first time was Martin Sun, 71, who said that he had been troubled by ingrowing toenails and fungal infections for years. Extreme stress is a significant issue in an industry where any sign of psychological problems can make it difficult to get another job. The president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong resigned, saying she could not appeal to authorities to ease COVID-19 restrictions at the same time as having to undergo quarantine herself. "What's the risk if I say to them I'm a bit stressed?" asked a pilot who has spent more than 200 nights locked in hotel rooms away from Hong Kong since the pandemic began. "If not, I would do it myself, bend down, then take a deep breath, and endure the pain," he said of trying to do the same work himself. But his critics accused him of lacking the urgency needed to tackle the national catastrophe.

"Does that affect my medical? And then you leave here and they ask have you ever been stood down for psychological reasons?" The pilots also expressed frustration with the ambiguity of some government-imposed pandemic-related rules. 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. "The more (the manicurists) come, the happier we old people are," the grandmother explained. Cathay acknowledged to Reuters in a statement that pilot resignations have risen beyond normal levels since the end of October. "Regrettably, the incident in Frankfurt has affected current sentiment," the airline said. Cass Ng was inspired to start her own social enterprise to help those unable to afford Hong Kong's expensive private healthcare. Related: Cathay Pacific to cut flights as Hong Kong COVID-19 rules bite TOUGH ROSTERS Hong Kong classifies many destinations including the United States and Britain as"high-risk", meaning Cathay pilots flying passengers inbound from those places are subject to two weeks of hotel quarantine.

To staff those flights, Cathay started running"closed-loop" rosters on a voluntary basis in February involving five consecutive weeks locked in hotel rooms with no access to fresh air or a gym and then two weeks off at home. "Slowly, they might tend not to go out and they will become lonelier," she said. "I did it to earn some money, since the 50 per cent pay cut (last year) made life much more difficult," said a recently departed pilot who did two closed loops."There are people currently in their 5th or 6th closed loop.." Cathay said on Thursday some inbound flights during the peak demand season of December would be cancelled, indicating a lack of volunteers. The airline said it recognised the strain on its pilots and had bi-weekly dial-in sessions to share concerns and programmes like a peer-based pilot assistance network as well as offering extended leaves of absence. take a walk and chat with friends.

LEAVING HONG KONG As conditions improve elsewhere in the world, other airlines including Emirates and US cargo carrier Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc are head-hunting Cathay pilots, said those who spoke with Reuters. Emirates, which has launched a recruitment drive for 600 pilots, declined to comment. "But after half a year to a year, his situation has changed. Atlas did not respond to a request for comment. The pilots Reuters spoke to said they expected more resignations next year when transitional housing and schooling benefits expired. Source: AFP/kg. Cathay said it would employ"several hundred" new pilots and restart its cadet programme in the coming year.

Hong Kong's strict rules led FedEx to close its pilot base in the city last week, underscoring the dimming allure of the territory as a major logistics hub. "I really, truly feel for people that are at Cathay," a FedEx pilot who recently left Hong Kong said."I am genuinely concerned about their mental health and how they are." .