Four Qantas flight crew tested positive for coronavirus after being exempt from hotel quarantine measures when they returned from Chile.
The crew travelled from Santiago to Sydney during a a repatriation flight on March 29, but unlike their passengers, they were not taken to hotels for mandatory 14-day quarantine.
Airline crew are not required to isolate after returning from overseas and are allowed to go home to their families thanks to a grant from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.
Four Qantas flight attendants have tested positive for coronavirus after being exempt from forced hotel quarantine measures on return from Chile. Pictured: Qantas staff in front of an aircraft that landed from Santiago in March 29
Army personnel wait for travellers to take them to hotels for quarantine after returning from overseas
It is feared the crew may have spread the deadly virus to their family members, other Qantas staff or the public since their return.
Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 expert advisory panel told The Sydney Morning Herald quarantine exemptions for airline crew didn’t make sense.
‘For cabin crew it makes no logical sense to give them an exemption when they are having close contact with passengers who are then required to go into isolation under supervision,’ she said.
‘While the cabin crew don’t go on holiday while they’re there, they are exposed for many hours in small confined spaces. Anybody that’s a traveller is a risk and that remains a risk for spread in Australia, be they the captain, the crew or the passengers.’
More than two thirds of Australian coronavirus patients have contracted the infection from a returned traveller.
Qantas Medical Director Dr Ian Hosegood said crew members are subject to self-isolation measures, with special provisions taken for crew on layovers.
‘We are complying with all of the requirements issued by the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee while also maintaining crucial air links to help get Australians home,’ he said in a statement.
Police officers in the deserted Sydney domestic airport on March 20 amid the coronavirus pandemic
A passenger wearing a face mask gives a thumbs up on arrival in Sydney from Santiago on March 29
‘Crew who return home must also comply with the social isolating requirements currently enforced in the state or territory in which they live just like any other member of the public.
‘We have also reiterated to our crew to practice good hygiene, use personal protective equipment when appropriate and maintain social distancing when on a slip or away from their base.’
Qantas crew are restricted to their rooms during layovers and are given personal protective equipment including hand sanitiser, masks, and gloves to use in transit.
The airline confirmed 50 staff members have tested positive for coronavirus in the past week.
Six baggage handlers from Adelaide airport tested positive for the virus on Tuesday before staff who had come into contact with them were tested.
Since then, at least 19 flight attendants, 14 baggage handlers and eight pilots have test positive.
Five Jetstar staff members have also tested positive.
Qantas have pledged to help bring stranded Australian travellers overseas back home during the pandemic
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 5,795
New South Wales: 2,637
Western Australia: 460
South Australia: 409
Australian Capital Territory: 96
Northern Territory: 28
TOTAL CASES: 5,795
Australians stranded overseas will have an opportunity to come back home on limited Qantas and Virgin flights.
Both airlines announced 13 flights this month for Australians stuck overseas during the coronavirus pandemic after the government agreed to subsidise service costs.
All passengers arriving back in Australia will face mandatory 14-day quarantine under supervision.
None of the flights will be landing in Sydney, as the government wants to even out the quarantine responsibility.
‘As the national carrier, Qantas is proud to operate these flights on behalf of the Federal Government and help bring more Australians home,’ the airline said in a statement.
‘Maintaining strategic air connections from Australia to hubs in the UK, US, Hong Kong and New Zealand will enable essential travel and freight to continue during this crisis.’