Hong Kong authorities imposed tighter coronavirus testing of incoming airline crews. Following the enforcement of new measures, both United Airlines and American Airlines have temporarily halted flights to the city.
Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection announced that “all crew members entering Hong Kong via HKIA [Hong Kong International Airport] [would] be subject to mandatory COVID-19 testing” from July 8, 2020. If they refuse to submit their “deep throat saliva specimens”, crew members risk a fine or even imprisonment.
Tighter measures follow eleven “imported cases” of coronavirus detected on July 4, 2020, including at least one pilot.
On the day the new measures were enforced, United flight UA877 from San Francisco to Hong Kong was canceled. “United flights to and from HKG are suspended through July 10 westbound and their corresponding returns,” the airline explained. “We are currently assessing how this impacts our future operations.”
The carrier had resumed operating five weekly flights between San Francisco and Hong Kong and was planning to start flights between Chicago and Hong Kong from September 2020.
On July 9, 2020, American Airlines also decided to suspend flights to and from Hong Kong until August 5, 2020, the South China Morning Post reports.
Airlines are understood to be in fear that one positive test could ground the whole crew for fourteen days ‒ a risk that neither management nor staff is willing to take. Additionally, the testing would add hours to the operating schedule. As an alternative to the testing in Hong Kong, they offer to carry out the testing before departure.