SINGAPORE: The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said on Wednesday (Dec 30) it will further tighten COVID-19 measures for air crew of Singapore carriers with immediate effect.
"This is in view of the heightened risk of COVID-19 infection overseas given the resurgence observed in several parts of the world," said CAAS, adding that the move also follows the recent COVID-19 cases involving a Singapore Airlines (SIA) steward and a pilot.
Air crew who layover in "high-risk destinations" will be required to undergo polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on three occasions - upon arrival in Singapore, and on the third and seventh day following their return.
Crew will also be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from their seventh-day PCR test, said CAAS.
Additionally, air crew on layover will be required to further minimise their contact with locals when they are overseas.
"For example, food delivered through room service should be left outside the room at the door instead of being handed over," said CAAS.
With immediate effect, crew travelling to and from South Africa will also wear full personal protective equipment (PPE), including N95 masks, face shields, protective gowns and gloves.
These requirements have already been in place for crew travelling to and from the United Kingdom since Dec 24, noted CAAS.
PASSENGERS SERVED BY SIA STEWARD TEST NEGATIVE
An SIA steward who recently tested positive for COVID-19 last worked on SQ24 to New York on Dec 12 and returned to Singapore on SQ23 on Dec 16.
He was asymptomatic and was tested under the testing protocol for air crew working with Singapore carriers upon their return from overseas. This involves a PCR test seven days after returning to Singapore, said CAAS.
After two inconclusive results, he tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec 27.
READ: Singapore Airlines steward who travelled to US classified as locally transmitted COVID-19 case
"CAAS' preliminary investigation showed that the cabin crew had adhered to the mandated in-flight and layover measures, including wearing mask, minimising contact with passengers and locals, and staying in his hotel room throughout," said the agency.
"During the layover in New York, he interacted with the immigration officer and hotel check-in staff and collected his meal from a hotel staff who delivered it to his room."
All crew members and 16 passengers who were seated in the section of the aircraft cabin served by him on SQ23 have tested negative for COVID-19, said CAAS.
His identified close contacts have been placed on quarantine order, while contact tracing continues.
SIA PILOT HAD NO CONTACT WITH PASSENGERS
The SIA pilot who also tested positive for COVID-19 last worked on SQ322 to London on Dec 19 and returned to Singapore on SQ317 on Dec 22.
He tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec 29. He has also preliminarily tested positive for the potentially more contagious B117 strain circulating in the UK, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Wednesday.
All of the man's identified close contacts have been placed on quarantine order.
A preliminary investigation showed that the pilot had also adhered to the mandated in-flight and layover measures, said CAAS.
He had no contact with passengers on board the flight.
"During the layover in London, he interacted with the immigration officer and hotel check-in staff, and also collected his meal from a hotel staff who delivered it to his room," CAAS added.
CREW 'BUBBLE-WRAPPED' WHILE OVERSEAS
The tightened measures are in addition to those already put in place in consultation with MOH, including minimising interactions between crew and passengers, said CAAS.
"Each crew member must wear a mask at all times, and goggles when interacting with passengers. Where possible, they use separate lavatories from the passengers. Air crew are also assigned specific sections within the aircraft to facilitate contact tracing," said the authority.
While overseas, crew are also "stringently 'bubble-wrapped'".
Crew operating turnaround flights do not disembark from the aircraft at the overseas destination, except to carry out external safety inspections of the aircraft, or for health or security screening as required by authorities.
This is to minimise their exposure in the airport terminal, said CAAS.
As for crew members who need to layover at overseas destinations, they must observe strict protocols such as wearing masks, observing safe distancing and remaining in their crew accommodation at all times.
The airline must also arrange for dedicated transport to ferry the crew between the airport and the crew accommodation, said CAAS.
All air crew also undergo regular PCR testing upon return from overseas.
This is to "provide added assurance for the crew, their families and Singaporeans that any imported infection can be quickly detected, and necessary medical treatment promptly given to the crew", said CAAS.
More than 22,500 COVID-19 PCR tests have been carried out on air crew to date. Apart from the two confirmed cases, all others have tested negative, the authority said.