MIAMI – Cargo flight crews who have not received COVID-19 vaccinations may now skip the required quarantine in Hong Kong – as long as they are arriving from one of six countries deemed to be “low risk.”

The South China Morning Post reports today that in addition to the quarantine skip, fully-vaccinated arriving crews may bypass isolation regardless of country of departure.

According to the news outlet, the relaxation of the guidelines came just hours after the government tightened restrictions for banning flights arriving from countries that are deemed “high risk,” particularly countries in which new coronavirus variants have been identified. Entry rules for passengers arriving from those countries were tightened as well.

FedEx MD-10. Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

What Countries are Low Risk?

On the cargo side, the government has told airlines that unvaccinated pilots who traveled to Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Thailand can avoid quarantine as long as they remained separated from the general population during their stay in the country.

Fully-vaccinated cargo flight crews can return to Hong Kong without having to go through quarantine, but crews who have traveled to countries considered to be the most dangerous will not be excluded. The rules consider eligible pilots as completely vaccinated 14 days after their second shot.

The government has indicated that it will classify Indonesia, the Philippines, India and others as “very high risk” alongside Britain and Brazil because of emerging Covid-19 variants.

China Airlines Cargo B-18723 Boeing 747-409F. Photo: Brandon Farris/Airways

Locally-Based Pilots Only

The changes affect only locally-based freighter pilots. Thus, the new rules give a boost to Cathay Pacific Airways (CX) and FedEx, which have suffered badly under the health rules and have (or had) a large contingency of crew located in Hong Kong.

According to the SCMP article, FedEx moved its 180 pilots and their families to San Francisco in February because the health rules were incompatible with its operations. The measure caused controversy as various contingencies, including the US government, said it benefited Cathay Pacific Airways at the expense of US-based carriers.

Also reported, airlines which operate so-called contactless flights to London, in which flight crew do not leave the plane, can now conduct necessary technical and operational tasks such as inspecting the outside of the aircraft before departure. However, they they cannot leave the airport or have physical contact with airport ground staff.

Hong Kong has warned airlines that they must provide “clear” documentation of the vaccinations. Otherwise, any ambiguity will result in crews facing 21 days of testing and isolation.

Featured image: Cathay Pacific B-LJN Boeing 747-8F. Photo: Roland Rimoczi/Airways