Cathay Pacific to allow cabin crew to wear masks on mainland China flights due to virus

Cathay Pacific to allow cabin crew to wear masks on mainland China flights due to virus

Cathay Pacific
File photo of Cathay Pacific cabin crew. (AFP/PHILIPPE LOPEZ)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific Airways will allow cabin crew to wear a surgical mask while operating mainland China flights due to concerns over a new coronavirus, and passengers to Wuhan to change or cancel flights without charge through Feb 15.

The airline's flight attendant had on Tuesday (Jan 21) called for permission to wear masks on all flights globally as cases have also been confirmed in the United States, Thailand, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

The coronavirus struck as millions of Chinese prepared to travel for the Chinese New Year, heightening contagion risks and posing a fresh threat to demand for the airline, which has been battered by months of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong.

READ: Wuhan pneumonia outbreak: A timeline of how the new coronavirus spread

The Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union said it had received a "tremendous" amount of emails and messages from members concerned over catching the virus given they are exposed to more than 300 passengers from numerous places on a single flight.

"All of them are worried about the risk they are taking every time they go to work," the union said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

READ: Wuhan virus: Infectious diseases centre Singapore's first line of defence

"It is time for the company to properly address their concerns and allow cabin crew to wear masks on all flights."

Cathay said on Wednesday it had told crew they could use their discretion and choose to wear a surgical mask while operating on mainland China flights.

On Tuesday evening, its website said with immediate effect, rebooking, rerouting and refund charges would be waived for all tickets arriving to or departing from Wuhan through Feb 15.

China's aviation regulator on Tuesday evening told mainland carriers to refund or change flights to Wuhan without charge at the request of passengers, which analysts at Daiwa said had affected more than 24 airlines.

Some other travel firms are also allowing free cancellations on bookings to Wuhan.

China's aviation regulator on Tuesday evening told mainland carriers to refund or change flights to Wuhan without charge at the request of passengers, which analysts at Daiwa said had affected more than 24 airlines.

Some other travel firms are also allowing free cancellations on bookings to Wuhan.

The death toll from the virus, which first emerged in the central city of Wuhan, has reached nine while more than 400 people have now been infected in 13 provinces and municipalities.

Cases have also been confirmed in Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Macau and the United States, all involving people who had been to Wuhan.

READ: Wuhan pneumonia outbreak: Asia ramps up

Wuhan pneumonia outbreak: Asia ramps up defence against coronavirus

 against coronavirus

CATHAY'S VIRUS FRONTLINE

Cathay said that as required by the Hong Kong health authorities, it was distributing health declaration forms and will be making face masks and antiseptic wipes available at the boarding gate to passengers travelling 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," it told the newspaper.

Cathay has already been hit by plummeting demand as a result of the protests in Hong Kong, leading it to cut capacity and defer the delivery of four planes.

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Shares in Cathay have fallen by 10 per cent since the start of January as the virus has spread.

Jefferies analysts said shares in Cathay and mainland Chinese carriers could remain under pressure for some time if the coronavirus situation paralleled the 2003 SARS outbreak and cases continued to increase. That coronavirus outbreak killed nearly 800 people.

"During SARS in 2003, share prices only bottomed two months after first being recognised by the WTO on 26 Feb 2003 despite China total passenger traffic declining until June 2003," the analysts said in a note to clients on Tuesday.

MORE: Our coverage on the Wuhan virus and its developments

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Source: Reuters/aj

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