Cathay Pacific halted all long-haul cargo flights for a week after Hong Kong tightened quarantine restrictions for air crews, prompting the carrier to warn of “dramatic disruptions” in the city’s supply of basic goods.
“Cathay Pacific Cargo will pause all long-haul cargo and passenger flights with immediate effect for a period of seven days, through January 6,” the airline said Friday.
The decision will affect trans-Pacific, European, Southwest Pacific, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates cargo flights, the carrier added.
Cathay also said it would make “significant changes” and cancel more passenger flights in the first quarter of next year as it performs “Skeletal” layout in January.
The move came just days after Hong Kong authorities extended quarantine restrictions for the flight crew due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. The city already had some of the world’s strictest pandemic controls under a Zero Covid Strategy.,
The crew of the cargo plane, which was previously exempted from quarantine upon arrival, now has to go through a seven-day mandatory isolation at the hotel, according to an internal letter he sent to Cathay pilots on Thursday in which he saw the Financial Times.
Local health authorities have previously announced that the crew will have to be quarantined for three days. The Hong Kong Office of Transport and Housing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cathay pilots are already suffering from low morale due to strict city restrictions, and some describe Covid’s city control measures as “permanent quarantine”.
Andy Wong, Cathay’s CEO of corporate affairs, said operational and travel restrictions continue to “limit our ability to operate flights as planned” and that the carrier has consolidated the passenger and cargo flight schedule for early 2022.
Cathai figures for November, before the advent of Omicron, showed that total cargo transported was reduced by 24 percent compared to pre-pandemic levels. The passenger capacity of the airline fell by more than 90 percent compared to the same period in 2019.
“We are cautious that any further tightening of air crew quarantine would lead to a reduction in the frequency of flights to protect the well-being of our crew members and the overall safety of our operations,” Wong said.
He added: “Such action, in turn, would cause dramatic disruptions in supply chains in the short term, jeopardizing adequate supply of basic goods in an already scarce supply chain environment, affecting the lives of thousands of people in Hong Kong and undermining Hong Kong International Airport as a leading cargo hub. ”
Aviation analysts have expressed concern that strict rules on Covid in Hong Kong risk undermining the city’s status as a global hub for flights and logistics.
Last month, a US-based cargo group FedEx has moved close its crew base in Hong Kong and relocate staff overseas. Airlines, including Finnair, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines, have been banned from flying on several routes to the city following cases of people arriving on the carriers.
Hong Kong had recorded 81 cases of Omicron by Thursday, and health experts warned the territory could be on the verge of an outbreak after at least two cases of community spread were discovered. The cases are believed to be related to a Cathaya air crew member.