National carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) has revealed that 16 of its local-based staff have been infected with the deadly coronavirus in March and April. This was disclosed in the airline’s internal messages which have been viewed by Yahoo Lifestyle SEA.
The airline stated that it is working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Ministry of Health to work out measures that will stem the spread of the virus, as well as update its employees about the cases and measures.
“Singapore Airlines can confirm that several of our crew members tested positive for COVID-19 in March and April 2020,” said a spokesperson with the SIA group to Yahoo Lifestyle SEA.
The person added, “SIA has been providing all necessary support to our staff who test positive for COVID-19, and we continue to monitor the situation closely to take steps to ensure the health and safety of all customers and staff.”
Out of the 16 cases, 14 are cabin crews while the remaining two are ground staff from SIA Engineering Company who were based in the airport apron area. However, half of the total infected individuals have reportedly recovered and been discharged from hospital.
Additionally, the internal messages also stated that the infected individuals had worked on Singapore-based routes to and from London, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Houston, Manchester, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Sydney, Amsterdam, and Munich.
In terms of the precautionary measures that SIA has implemented following the revelation of the cases, the airline noted that all crew staff who have worked on the same flights as those infected are on leave of absence. If that’s not all, close contacts of the infected staff were also asked to monitor their health closely.
“We support the Ministry of Health’s contact tracing efforts after every positive case. All crew members who operate on the same flights as these individuals are grounded and asked to take a leave of absence,” said SIA spokesperson.
“Anyone who may have come into contact with the individuals is asked to monitor their health for symptoms related to the virus. In addition, the premises that these individuals may have visited are disinfected,” the person added.
Crew members’ view on the precautionary measures
Flight crews are exposed to the risks of contracting the deadly virus as they interact with travellers from different parts of the world, including those from countries with a high number of cases.
Two SIA crew staff voiced their thoughts to Yahoo Lifestyle SEA on the preventive measures implemented by the airline as well as their overall concerns about the pandemic. Both the staff noted that they did not want to be named.
Some of the measures rolled out by the airline include compulsory usage of masks for cabin crew, as well as giving them gloves and hand sanitisers on board. On top of that, cabin crew have to get their temperature taken before they board flights.
During a layover, cabin crew are not allowed to go anywhere and are strictly required to stay inside their own hotel rooms.
In response to this, one cabin crew said, “Face masks were provided to us since January, and cabin crew were allowed to wear masks on a discretionary basis (initially).”
From 7 March onwards, SIA made it compulsory for all crew staff to weak masks during flights.
He added, “I’ve been staying at home since March, but I did not display any sick symptoms. I was not worried, I felt that there was low exposure even with confirmed cases on board.”
However, another male flight attendant felt that the airline’s move to make it mandatory to wear masks came a bit too late.
“At first they allowed us the option of wearing masks, and some crew chose not to wear them because of comfort or they didn’t believe it was that serious. Some also feared that the mask would mess up their grooming such as lipstick. Before wearing masks was made mandatory, some of the crew would remark and reprimand you if you didn’t put lipstick on when you wore a mask,” he explained.
He added that he is worried about his own safety while at work because he felt like the measures taken might not prevent the spread of the virus on board flights.
SIA takes a hit due to pandemic
One industry that has been badly affected due to the pandemic is undoubtedly the airline industry. On 23 March, SIA went public to state that it would reduce its capacity by 96 per cent, stop most of its fleet, and implement aggressive cost-cutting measures.
Additionally, Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, which is SIA’s largest shareholder, said that it will underwrite the airline’s move to raise S$15 billion in funds by issuing new bonds and shares.
On 20 April, SIA and SilkAir revealed on their website that both airlines will operate a reduced schedule of services next month due to the pandemic.
According to the announcement, SIA and SilkAir noted that within Southeast Asia, they will continued to fly to a number of cities like Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila during the month.
Additionally, the airlines will also fly to Chongqing, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, Los Angeles, London, Frankfurt, and Zurich.