Qantas crew exempt from quarantine test positive for COVID-19

written by Adam Thorn | April 6, 2020
A file image of Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJA flying over Sydney Airport. (Damien Aiello)
A Qantas Boeing 747-400 VH-OJA flying over Sydney Airport. (Damien Aiello)

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.

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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.

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“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.

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.”

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18 Comments

  • James

    says:

    Not sure if the throwback photos are intentional, like your 747-300, but keep them coming!

    They’re gold.

  • Bernhard

    says:

    The poor buggers. Looks like everyone-pax, crews, airport staff will from now on need to be tested pre-flight/shift and post-flight at passport control/end of shift to reduce incidence of affected persons leaving without quarantine. Good bye cheap flights and lots of destination choices (in my view)-hence the reality of less destinations per airline, more checks and diligent cleaning so then larger planes at less frequencies due to costs I believe will be the norm.

  • john

    says:

    why would air crew be exempt ? This is another crazy decision by some totally useless public servant.

    • Linda Weaving

      says:

      Agree!

  • Anthony Eginton

    says:

    A lot left out of this article, like Ansett paying all the fuel costs for the Air NZ fleet and the theft of 737 engines from Australia under cover of darkness. No mention of the little fat bastard kiwi who presided over the death rites of Ansett and walked away with a bag load of money. The public have short memories but the aviation fraternity long ones when it comes to theft, and the ruination of a great airline to satisfy some hillbilly trans Tasman rivalry.
    Hopefully karma takes care of Air New Zealand in this latest downturn caused by Corona Virus

  • Bene Cochran

    says:

    How do QANTAS get a get out of quarantine when returning ADF members have to do it. Just seems its getting like QANTAS get a free pass when ever they like not the staff the Company

    Thanks for your great reporting on all the topics awesome news representation and editing stay safe and take care

    • Linda Weaving

      says:

      It is unconscionable that Qantas AND airport management have completely failed in their responsibility to protect their staff! All in the pursuit of profit! I hope the TWU has something to say about this!

  • Miti

    says:

    Now Qantas is trying to get the NZ based crew to do recovery flights for them as Australian crew won’t.

  • David WW Olley

    says:

    It is absolutely crazy that Qantas Crew were exempt. Everyone involved in allowing that to happen ought to be locked up. Qantas, Unions, Government (and Agencies) and the Crew themselves should have insisted on the Crew being subject to the normal quarantine. Or do those people think they are above the law and do not have to respect the lives of Australia? Shame on you Qantas, Alan Joyce and the Crew themselves. You deserve no sympathy. How many people have you infected by your own erroneous and ill-conceived and selfish actions?

    • Linda Weaving

      says:

      Here here! Qantas has lost my respect. Alan Joyce should resign for failing to uphold his duty of care for staff!

  • Stepheb

    says:

    To all the people asking why Qantas crew are exempt. First of all, it applies to airline crew, ie ALL AIRLINES not just Qantas. Secondly, they are exempt because the government have grouped them with other essential services, including the police, nurses, doctors, paramedics, pharmacists, transport workers, supermarket staff, etc. Lastly, how do you propose the airlines can operate if their flight and cabin crew are required to go into 14 days of quarantine after EVERY flight?

    • Linda Weaving

      says:

      They shouldn’t operate. Full stop. Airlines are NOT an essential service! If such enormous businessas can’t take the bad times with the good, then they weren’t viable in the first place, or management are incompetent with no foresight. Anyway, it will be the dodgy budget airlines that fold before Qantas – they operate on tighter margins. So what is Qantas complaining about? Reduced competition! Besides, we’d be better off without that class of budget airlines that have a history of taking shortcuts on safety and employing incompetent pilots.

  • PhilLC

    says:

    does ‘testing postive’ = contagious? Maybe they are ‘positive’ but no longer a danger…?

  • Mike

    says:

    Admittedly most air services have now been reduced to a trickle and there are now few cabin crew flying. As I understand it, the crew exemption was made to ensure continued air services at the time, that being before countries introduced lockdowns and effectively shut down international flights. Had crew automatically been required to be “quarantined,” as each successive flight returned to Australia there would be fewer and fewer crew to operate future flights.
    Those making the regulatory decisions similarly faced the dilemma, if we were to require mandatory quarantine, say, for every doctor, nurse, ambulance bearer, or other person who had potentially come onto contact with an infected person, then medical services would have rapidly ground to a halt.
    I’m personally aware of crew who, while exempt from legal requirements to self-isolate, chose to do so, even as early as January. These people are not selfish or irresponsible, rather were endeavouring to deal as best they could, with a global situation the likes and scale of which none of us has experienced before.
    For my part, I’m sitting safely at home, as instructed by our government, and here sharing my five cents’ worth on this issue.
    My thoughts and heartfelt appreciation go out to all those, who despite the personal risk to themselves, and indeed to their families, continue to perform their day to day essential duties.

  • Warrick

    says:

    I think many responses above are poorly directed. Pilots and Cabin Crew have to follow company directions and do so. Your misplaced anger should be directed towards Government and Qantas Management and Medical Advisors. All Qantas Pilots and Cabinara Crew aren’t permitted to use Sick Leave should they be tested for COVID-19.

    • Linda Weaving

      says:

      Yes, ultimately the blame does fall on the government and the managers. They already have blood on their hands.

  • Linda Weaving

    says:

    How very predictable. International flights need to be stopped altogether. Otherwise we have a constant influx of coronavirus and it will be impossible to ‘flatten the curve’, as they say. It creates the potential for more waves of exponential infection and rising numbers of deaths.
    If the government won’t do it, will Qantas have the balls?

  • Stepheb

    says:

    Linda Weaving, you clearly have zero understanding of economics or the airline industry.

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