Two ex-flight attendants arrested in Hong Kong over COVID rule breach

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Hong Kong police said they have arrested and charged two former flight attendants over allegations they broke the city's coronavirus rules.

The statement, which was published late on Monday, did not name the airline but the announcement comes after Cathay Pacific said in January it had fired two aircrew who were suspected of breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Police said the two had returned to Hong Kong from the United States on December 24 and 25 where they had "conducted unnecessary activities" during their home isolation period.

They both later tested positive for the fast-spreading Omicron strain. If convicted, they could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to HK$5,000 ($642).

They have been released on bail with their case to be heard on February 9.

Hong Kong's flagship carrier has faced blame for the initial spread of Omicron into the community, with leader Carrie Lam singling out Cathay and launching two investigations into the company.

Chairman Patrick Healy said the company was cooperating with the government on the probes, which focus on non compliance with coronavirus rules and rostering of crew onto cargo flights, according to an internal video to staff that was reviewed by Reuters.

Hong Kong has continually adjusted its quarantine rules for air crew, dramatically tightening them after the Omicron outbreak in late December, leading the airline to cancel most of its planned passenger and cargo flights in January.

The airline had been struggling to staff many flights even before the rules were tightened, as some destinations relied on pilots volunteering to fly punishing rosters involving five weeks locked in hotel rooms.

Healy said Cathay's crew had spent more than 62,000 nights in Hong Kong's quarantine hotels in 2021, with none contracting COVID-19 for the first eight months of the year. All are fully vaccinated.

Hong Kong is following mainland China's zero-tolerance approach to control COVID-19 as the rest of the world shifts toward living with the coronavirus.

Unlike the mainland, the global financial hub is quite dependent on business travellers and imported goods.

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