Five more Qantas baggage handlers working in Adelaide Airport were diagnosed with coronavirus on Wednesday, on top of the six confirmed cases the day before.
The Transport Workers Union has now demanded the airline provide documents under health and safety laws regarding the outbreak.
Despite the revelation, the airport will continue to stay open after a “really deep clean” was carried out overnight. More than 100 baggage handlers are now off work self-isolating.
South Australia’s deputy chief public health officer, Michael Cusack, said the risk to the public was low but “there’s absolutely no harm in giving your suitcase a wipe, particularly around the handle”.
On Tuesday, Qantas cancelled seven Adelaide flights, include one, QF741, which was turned back to Sydney while in mid-air.
TWU SA Branch secretary Ian Smith claimed there was evidence the infection was allowed to spread because of lax systems in place.
Smith said, “We are informed that following an initial infection not enough protections were put in place to stop the spread. This is very serious as it means Qantas allowed its workers and workers in other companies to become exposed through its own negligence.”
Meanwhile, the coronavirus testing criteria in SA has been expanded to include anyone who has visited the Adelaide Airport terminal or car park in the past 14 days and has symptoms.
Qantas told Australian Aviation in a statement, “Since the Coronavirus outbreak, we have put enhanced safety measures in place to protect our employees and customers. We are conducting additional cleaning of airport facilities and aircraft on a daily basis.
“In addition to the consistent public health messages from governments, our employees are beeing advised not to come to work if they were feeling unwell.
“We are extremely concerned about the TWU’s claims that one of our employees came to work while feeling unwell for up to 10 days, putting their workmates at risk of contracting the coronavirus.
“It’s a shared responsibility. We can provide the safest workplace in the world, but if people come to work when they know they are sick they can still spread their infection around.”
On 5 March, the NSW safety watchdog said that Qantas’ cleaning standards are so poor they could put passengers and staff at risk of catching COVID-19.
An inspection note obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald noted how cleaners were wiping tray tables without disinfectant and performing tasks such as handling soiled nappies and dirty tissues without wearing “protective equipment” for “the majority of these tasks”.
SafeWork NSW issued Qantas with an “improvement notice” and ordered the airline to develop a new system specifically to deal with COVID-19.
TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said Qantas must step up to ensure its workers are safe.
Kaine said, “We have repeatedly asked Qantas to listen to the concerns of its workers and to act to protect them. They have clearly failed to do this. In Adelaide, an infection cluster has been allowed to occur.
“In Sydney, a worker remains stood down for raising legitimate concerns about the spread of the virus. Qantas should stop playing politics and worrying about what strife Virgin is in. Instead, it should turn its attention to how it is leaving its workforce open to exposure to a deadly virus.”
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