COVID-19: Tighter measures for air crew following 2 positive cases in 2 days

Staff Writer, Singapore
·Editorial Team
·4 min read
Technicians check on a Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900 plane at Changi International Airport in Singapore on October 24, 2020. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
A Singapore Airlines plane at Changi International Airport in Singapore. (PHOTO: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will further tighten measures to ensure the safety and well-being of air crew, following the confirmations of a Singapore Airlines (SIA) cabin crew member and a pilot who tested positive for COVID-19 on 27 and 29 December respectively.

With immediate effect, air crew on layovers at overseas destinations will have to further minimise their contact with locals. For example, food delivered through room service should be left outside the room at the door instead of being handed over.

Currently, these air crew are already observing protocols such as wearing masks, observing safe distancing, and remaining in their crew accommodation at all times. The airline must also arrange for dedicated transport to ferry the crew between the airport and the crew accommodation.

There will also be more Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test for the air crew. Those who layover in high-risk destinations will be required to undergo PCR tests on arrival, as well as on the third and seventh day following their return to Singapore. The air crew will be required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from their seventh-day PCR test.

In addition, crew travelling to and from the United Kingdom have been required to don full personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, face shields, protective gowns and gloves since 24 December. Crew travelling to and from South Africa will also start doing so for flights with immediate effect.

Measures already in place on air crew to minimise risk of infection

CAAS said in media release on Wednesday (30 December) that it has already put in place measures to protect the air crew of Singapore-based airlines and minimise their risk of exposure to COVID-19 during their duty on board aircraft and overseas.

During the flight, interactions between crew members and passengers are minimised. Each crew member must also wear a mask at all times, and goggles when interacting with passengers.

Where possible, they use separate lavatories from the passengers. Air crew are also assigned specific sections within the aircraft to facilitate contact tracing.

To minimise exposure in the foreign airport terminal, Singapore air crew operating turnaround flights do not disembark from the aircraft at the overseas destination, except to carry out external safety inspections of the aircraft, or for health or security screening as required by the relevant authorities.

CAAS said that all air crew undergo regular PCR testing upon return from overseas to provide added assurance for the crew, their families and Singaporeans that any imported infection can be quickly detected.

To date, more than 22,500 PCR tests have been carried out on air crew. Apart from the two cases, all others have tested negative.

Details of SIA air crew member tested positive

CAAS also provide details on the two cases of SIA air crew being tested positive for COVID-19.

The first case is an SIA cabin crew member who last operated to New York on 12 December and returned to Singapore on 16 December.

He was asymptomatic upon return, and was tested under the testing protocol seven days after his return to Singapore. He was first tested on 23 December and again on 25 December, both with inconclusive results, but an additional test on 27 December returned positive.

He had been isolated at home since 25 December after he obtained the result of the first test. Following the positive test result on 27 December, he was conveyed to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) on the same day.

CAAS' preliminary investigation showed that the cabin crew member had adhered to the mandated in-flight and layover measures. During the layover in New York, he interacted with the immigration officer and hotel check-in staff, and collected his meal from a hotel staff who delivered it to his room.

All crew members and 16 passengers who were seated in the section of the aircraft cabin served by him on the return flight to Singapore have tested negative for COVID-19. The Ministry of Health (MOH) has put all identified close contacts on Quarantine Order, and contact tracing is in progress.

Pilot operated on London flight

The second case is a pilot who last operated to London on 19 December and returned to Singapore on 22 December.

He was tested on 23 December and his PCR test result on 25 December was negative. However, he developed a fever on 26 December and went to a clinic on 27 December for another PCR test, which returned positive on 29 December.

He was conveyed to the NCID on the same day. MOH has put all identified close contacts on Quarantine Order.

CAAS’ preliminary investigation showed that the pilot had adhered to the mandated in-flight and layover measures. He had no contact with passengers on board the flight. During the layover in London, he interacted with the immigration officer and hotel check-in staff, and also collected his meal from a hotel staff who delivered it to his room.

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