Hong Kong points fingers at Cathay Pacific for Omicron spread; warns of legal action – Republic World

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When Omicron infected at least 50 people in Hong Kong last week, the government pointed the finger squarely at the city’s flagship airline, Cathay Pacific. Two crew members were accused of violating their home quarantine by going shopping or meeting friends, thereby spreading the highly transmissible variant throughout the city.
The government launched investigations and threatened legal action, citing infection flow charts that identified cases linked to the airline’s brand, as the number of cases grew, The Guardian reported. 
Cathay Pacific had already been in trouble with the government in mid-2019, when it refused to penalise any employees who took part in pro-democracy demonstrations. The Chinese civil aviation authority barred Cathay Pacific crew members who had protested from working on flights in or out of mainland China in August of that year. At least 26 employees who took part in the protests were reportedly sacked after a management change.
The allegations are the latest episode in a tumultuous few years for Cathay Pacific, which has had to negotiate Hong Kong’s COVID-19 regulations as well as shifting political landscapes. Staff morale has been harmed as a result of the punitive action taken against the airline, which includes work requirements that were unheard of just three years ago.
With bans on flights from seven countries and transit passengers from another 140, Hong Kong’s pandemic border controls are among the harshest in the world. Only 165 individuals flew into what was once one of the world’s 10 busiest airports on a single day last week.
Thousands of close contacts are also forced into government quarantine at Penny’s Bay, where arrivals must undergo a 21-day expensive quarantine. The centres neared breaking point this week as a result of the Omicron outbreak, with tales of power outages, food shortages, and people being held longer than ordered because staff were too overworked to release them.
The airline had recently been released from a government ban on flying key international routes as a punishment for transporting Covid-positive passengers. Quarantine procedures were strengthened around the same time the embargo was issued in late December, when a pilot tested positive, then again just days later after three crew members tested positive, and then again after the most recent cases.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, called the airline “a very big noncompliance case” on Tuesday, accusing it of transferring some staff members back to the territory on empty cargo planes to avoid longer quarantine procedures. Although the crew’s violations were serious, observers noticed that the pressure on Cathay appeared to increase as the government faced scrutiny over MPs who were also suspected of violating instructions on avoiding big gatherings, according to The Guardian.
Lam stated, “This has to be put under full investigation, and we will take legal action once we have the full evidence of what wrong they went into,” The Guardian reported.
When foreign travel fell in 2020 and 2021, the entire aviation industry suffered, but Cathay Pacific was particularly vulnerable since it had no home market to fall back on. The number of flights between Hong Kong and London each day has been reduced from five to one. The airline shifted its focus to freight, but that suffered as well.
Cathay Pacific recorded a $2.8 billion (£2 billion) loss in 2020, despite obtaining a $5 billion government bailout in June of that year. In the first half of 2021, a $972 million deficit was reported.

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