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Following growing concerns about the outbreak and spread of the China coronavirus, cabin crew and frontline staff on the ground at Cathay Pacific have been granted permission to wear surgical masks.
According to a memo sent out by the airline on Wednesday: “Due to the evolving information from health authorities, we will allow crew members and frontline airport employees to wear surgical face masks when on duty at their discretion.”
“We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to coordinate with the health authorities in Hong Kong and all the ports to which we operate flights.”
The change of policy from Hong Kong’s flagship carrier comes after employees raised concerns that not allowing them to wear masks violated their basic human rights by only allowing the wearing of face masks on some routes, and warned of the “catastrophic” effects of waiting until an employee was struck down by illness before taking action.
Previously, only cabin crew on flights to mainland China were allowed to wear face masks. But on Wednesday – with cases of the Wuhan coronavirus reported in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and the United States – the airline announced it had extended permission to all flights.
In the hours leading up to Cathay’s announcement, the Flight Attendants Union advised all cabin crew to raise their concerns directly to the airline by emailing their managers.
“We are pleased to hear the company’s decision. A lot of members actually wrote to the company directly to raise their concerns. We appreciate the company listening to the employees and finally making this decision,” said Amber Suen, the union’s internal vice-chairwoman.
One Cathay Pacific flight attendant – who asked to remain anonymous – hoped that if such an occurred outbreak in future, the airline would grant permission more promptly.
“This should become a long-standing policy, that whenever there is such an outbreak, staff should be allowed to wear masks,” the employee told the SCMP.
The airline subsequently announced that all flights to and from Wuhan will be cancelled until 29 February.