Seven more Qantas crew members who worked on a flight from Chile to Sydney but didn’t undertake quarantine have tested positive for coronavirus, bringing the total number to 11.
The new revelation, from The Sydney Morning Herald, will put further pressure on the government to fix an apparent loophole that forces passengers, but not airline staff, to spend 14 days in a hotel after landing.
All together, 50 Qantas Group staff have now tested positive for coronavirus, including 11 Adelaide Airport baggage handlers disclosed last week.
Qantas sources told the newspaper that police visited those who were subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19 to ensure they were now in isolation at home.
The discrepancy in rules has emerged because the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, a major decision-making body during the pandemic, issued an exception for airline crew undertaking repatriation flights.
In the next four weeks, Qantas and Virgin will resume limited international flights to Australia from London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland after agreeing to help bring stranded nationals home.
“Whilst our crew have followed all Australian and other government advice when they are overseas, in some destinations the local community spread had been underestimated by local health officials,” Qantas medical director Dr Ian Hosegood said.
“For example, previously crew were allowed to interact within hotels, and we suspect that’s how a number of crew contracted the virus in Santiago.”
Previously, Australian Aviation reported on 1 April that 11 baggage handlers working at Adelaide Airport tested positive for coronavirus. Since then, a further worker in a “public-facing” role has, too.
We have this evening been advised by our security provider SNP Security, that it has had a staff member test positive for COVID-19. The staff member conducts duties in a public facing role at #AdelaideAirport. We're working with the employer and @SAHealth. [ – pic @Matt_Bonser ] pic.twitter.com/B8PgYBhOF8
— Adelaide Airport (@AdelaideAirport) April 3, 2020
Then, 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”.
Last week, Qantas cancelled seven Adelaide flights, include one, QF741, which was turned back to Sydney while in mid-air.
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 being advised not to come to work if they were feeling unwell.”