Hong Kong bans Cathay Dragon and Air India flying passengers to city from India

The shortage pushed up airfares, allowing Air India to make a windfall. Photo: Nikkei Asian Review. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

HONG KONG, Sep 20, 2020, SCMP. Hong Kong has temporarily barred two airlines, Cathay Dragon and Air India, from flying passengers to the city from India after a number of them tested positive for the coronavirus. For Air India, the ban was its second in little more than a month after its most recent flight on September 18 carried six passengers with Covid-19, South China Morning Post reported.

On the same day, Cathay Dragon carried five passengers that had the virus, who had transited through Kuala Lumpur.

Emergency health regulations introduced on September 15 mean any airlines that carry five Covid-19 passengers or more, or two consecutive flights with three or more diagnosed passengers, face being banned from Hong Kong.

Both airlines are barred from operating their respective services until October 3.

India has the second-most cases of Covid-19 in the world behind the United States, at 5.3 million and rising. In total, 30.5 million cases and 953,000 deaths had been reported worldwide as of Sunday.

The move means official repatriation flights, solely operated by Air India, are grounded, cutting off a key transit route for the thousands of Indian citizens still desperately seeking to return to Hong Kong after being stranded abroad for several months.

Hong Kong has long harboured doubts about India’s quality and reliability of testing, while suspicions over the authenticity of health documents also linger.

A spokeswoman for Cathay Dragon said it was notified on Saturday night by health authorities in Hong Kong that five passengers on flight KA734 from Kuala Lumpur last Friday had the virus.

“As a result of the Civil Aviation Department directive, we will suspend our passenger services between Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong until October 3,” the airline said in a statement.

The five Cathay passengers flew to Malaysia on an Air India Express service before connecting to Cathay Dragon.

Authorities in Hong Kong, according to Cathay, said the affected passengers’ documents complied with strict health rules.

As well as sending the affected aircraft for deep cleaning, the airline said it was trying to trace people who were in close contact with the passengers on board.

Flight KA734 also carried four Covid-19 passengers on September 11 from India. The Hong Kong Department of Health said six Air India passengers who arrived on September 18 were subsequently diagnosed with the virus.

Since July 25, the Hong Kong government has required travellers from high-risk countries – including India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia and the United States – to secure a negative Covid-19 test with certification and validation within 72 hours of departure. A hotel reservation for 14 days must also be presented as proof.

Tracking the massive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world’s airline industry in early 2020
Among the requirements is a stipulation that testing must be undertaken at an accredited or government-approved facility. However, Hong Kong relies upon other governments to determine what a testing facility must do to be approved.

People have been left desperate, as flights from India to Hong Kong have been slow to be organised despite high demand.

Air India was also banned from flying to the city for two weeks in August after a dozen Covid-19 cases were detected.

When the ban took effect, the Hong Kong government advised people stranded in India to fly to the city via transit hubs such as Kuala Lumpur, despite the potential for increased exposure to the virus.
Imported cases from India have previously arrived in Hong Kong via Singapore, Doha and Kuala Lumpur.

Last week, Air India Express was banned by Dubai authorities for 15 days starting on September 18, after the airline’s airport ground handling agents boarded two passengers who had tested positive for the virus. The ban was lifted after 24 hours.

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