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Qantas and Virgin staff caught up in Byron Bay COVID incident

written by Adam Thorn | July 26, 2021
Virgin and Qantas 737s sit side-by-side, as shot by Victor Pody

Qantas and Virgin employees have been caught up in a COVID transmission incident after an infected man flew from Sydney to Ballina Byron Bay airport.

The passenger, who authorities allege knew he was infectious, travelled via Virgin on 14 July and then was picked up by a Qantas flight attendant, who subsequently tested positive but not before crewing six flights herself. The man later drove directly to Queensland.

Anyone travelling on Virgin 737-8FE, VH-YIZ msn 40702 – which departed Sydney at 10:43am on 14 July as flight VA1139 and landed in Ballina (Byron Bay) at 11:41am – is urged to get tested and isolate for 14 days regardless of the result.

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Jeremy McAnulty of NSW Health claims the man boarded the flight despite knowing he was a close contact of a Sydney case and was required to isolate.

Authorities say the man received a false negative result on 12 July but tested positive on 20 July. When he was contacted, he allegedly said he had been self-isolating since 10 July.

“However, we know this is not true,” Dr McAnulty said.

“We believe he travelled to Queensland on July 14 and we’re concerned about the nature and extent of these exposures on the flight and in the community both in NSW and Queensland.”

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The manager of Ballina Byron Gateway airport, Julie Stewart, told the ABC the risk of infectious was “quite low” due to COVID safety measures put in place.

“There are no known cases in this area, which is of great concern,” NSW Health had said.

“Everyone in the area is asked to be especially vigilant for symptoms, and if they appear, to immediately come forward for testing and isolate until a negative result is received. If symptoms appear again, please be tested and isolate again.”

Earlier this month, the TWU said just one-third of aviation workers in Australia had been fully vaccinated, according to a survey it carried out.

The investigation, which questioned 789 employees including cabin crew, pilots, cleaners, baggage handlers and ground workers, also found a further 22 per cent had received just the one shot.

The union has consistently called on the government to prioritise cabin crew for COVID vaccines after a Virgin employee first tested positive in June.

The new investigation by the unions revealed many workers had not been jabbed because of a lack of timeslot availability. Of those who had been inoculated, 70 per cent organised the shot themselves, while 30 per cent had help from their employer.

“We’d like to see all aviation workers across the country be vaccinated and we’ve been strongly encouraging our employees to get vaccinated as soon as they can,” Qantas said in response. “NSW has made vaccines mandatory for workers with anything to do with international flights and other states are likely to follow.”

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