Qantas moves to recruit cabin staff from New Zealand subsidiaries to operate scheduled flights to rescue Australians trapped overseas, after failing to get adequate volunteers from Australian cabin staff to operate planned flights.
Amid the news that 50 Qantas and Jetstar staff have contracted the corona virus, there is increasing concern among Qantas staff about plans to continue flights to Los Angeles, London, Auckland and Hong Kong this weekend.
The resumption of scheduled international flights has been requested by the federal government as part of steps to get Australians trapped overseas.
But even though Qantas downgraded 80% of its crew and required them to take annual leave, the company’s call for volunteers included staff based in New Zealand and Australia.
The Australian Aviation Association said the talks had stalled, after the union accused Qantas of trying to move away from the main consultation mechanism in the company agreement, including involving trade unions in decisions about flights beyond the current four-week period.
But reluctance also stems from anxiety about catching the virus on board.
FAAA’s vice president, Bruce Roberts, said its members were “very frightened” and their members cried after receiving a positive diagnosis.
An employee, who did not identify themselves, contacted Guardians to say that Qantas was slow to allow cabin crew to wear gloves when carrying out food services, and did not respond to crew requests to be allocated toilets on separate ships for passengers until recently.
Qantas’s chief medical officer, Dr. Ian Hosegood, refused to respond to the specific allegations, but said the company had introduced “improved measures” to protect the crew while they were abroad.
“Pilots and cabin crew will be asked to isolate themselves in their hotel rooms and we will put other steps in the flight,” he said.
The Australian and International Pilots Association said Qantas employees will continue to fly a number of international and domestic routes.
But AIPA president Mark Sedgwick said every member of the Qantas crew who contracted Covid-19 while in service had to be able to use sick leave during their periods in isolation or recovering from illness caused by a virus.
He said it was not clear how the pilot and crew who had been infected had contracted the virus.
The resumption of flights will also renew the focus on deliverance for the crew from the requirement to isolate for 14 days, unlike international returning passengers.
Hosegood said the release of the government for flight crew from compulsory duty was important to help displaced Australians return home safely.
But he acknowledged that in some of the destinations the spread of local communities had been underestimated by local health officials.
“For example, previously the crew was allowed to interact inside the hotel, and we suspect that is the way some crews contract the virus in Santiago,” he said.
However, Qantas stressed that there were no confirmed cases of corona virus transmission to employees or customers on the plane, or any aircraft globally.
The airline believes that proof of transmission is not currently possible, but that cleaning procedures have been implemented.
Quarantine exemption will be examined when the government reviews the potential vector for Covid-19 transmission to the wider community.
Health workers also have exemptions from self-isolation – their work means they will relate to Covid-positive patients.
On Tuesday the NSW government announced plans to provide free accommodation for frontline workers so they did not feel worried that they might bring the infection home to the family.
The new flight will benefit Australians who are stranded in several major destinations, but it seems very unlikely that the government will launch repatriation flights for thousands of stranded Australians in India, whose population of 1.3 billion is in the national lock.
Securing flights is “proving challenging for a number of reasons”, a high commission in New Delhi wrote to Australians who had registered to go home: mainly the lack of available aircraft and flight costs.
There are no commercial aircraft available to fly to Australia, the high commission said. Air India, which normally runs direct flights to Australia, has told the Australian government that it cannot fly to Australia now because it does not have available crews or resources in Australia.
Getting an Australian airline – both of which are not flying to India at the moment – faces regulatory hurdles that will take time to resolve.
For Australians stranded in South America, commercial charters have been held. The embassy in Lima received reservations for two flights on April 8, flying Cusco-Santiago-Melbourne and Lima-Iquitos-Santiago-Melbourne.
The fee is $ 2,550 per person, about half of the previous flights from Lima and Cusco. Both flights will land in Melbourne and passengers will be quarantined for 14 days in Melbourne.
More than 400 Australians have registered their interests.
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