Four Qantas cabin crew who worked on a flight from Chile and were exempt from going into quarantine have subsequently tested positive for COVID-19.
The revelation, reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, will put pressure on the government to change a rule that forces passengers, but not airline staff, to spend 14 days in a hotel after landing.
Altogether, 50 Qantas Group staff have now tested positive for coronavirus, including the 11 Adelaide Airport baggage handlers previously disclosed.
The company’s medical officer Russell Brown said most transmissions were thought to originate from overseas, and staff are taking precautions. All affected are now undertaking their 14-day self-isolation.
Brown said, “They are wearing masks when flying and being careful, and we’re still seeing these cases.
“When you’re dealing with a community that has more spread, the risk goes up, and we have to start thinking about what’s going on here.”
Meanwhile, Qantas medical director Ian Hosegood said that while he couldn’t rule out the disease spreading to passengers, there are currently no reports of that happening.
“In most of these cases, the employees have contracted the coronavirus while overseas, including staff who were on holidays,” Dr Hosegood said.
“We have put in place increased measures to protect our people while they are at work and our customers including enhanced cleaning at airports and on aircraft and providing necessary safety equipment.”
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.”