In early 2021, the Hong Kong government tightened entry constraints for air crew, requiring all crew to enter a 7- or 14-day quarantine plus a period of medical surveillance after returning to Hong Kong.
This presented an enormous logistical problem, as it would be impossible to continue operating scheduled flights and bringing much-needed supplies to Hong Kong, including PPE and vaccines, if most crew members were out of action for up to two weeks following every single flight.
To both meet the government requirements and ensure that we have enough colleagues available to operate flights, we introduced the Closed Loop system.
What is the Closed Loop?
The Closed Loop system allowed us to complete multiple flights in a three or four-week period, before going into quarantine in Hong Kong.
Instead of going home after each flight, crew in the Closed Loop were required to isolate in the Headland Hotel at Cathay City: they were unable to re-enter the community. All crew were required to “test and hold” upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport before travelling to their hotel, this meant hours of sitting in the Airport Midfield Concourse after a duty.
Remaining isolated at all points kept the risk of contracting COVID-19 to an absolute minimum, enabling our people in the loop to travel in and out of Hong Kong without the need to quarantine until the end of the period.
How long did a Closed Loop last?
There were a few different options for employees who operated in the Closed Loop.
The Loop cycle lasted for up to either 11, 21 or 28 days, in which crew were flying and isolating at the Headland Hotel in between flights. This was followed by 7 or 14 days of quarantine depending on where they had travelled to, followed by an additional 14 or 7 days respectively of medical surveillance, depending on where they had travelled to, during which crew were required to avoid unnecessary social contact and undergo regular testing. The maximum length of one standard Closed Loop cycle was 49 days.
Alternatively, crew could choose to complete two 28-day Closed Loops in succession, following which six weeks’ guaranteed time off was rostered. This option provided an opportunity for anyone wanting to travel outside of Hong Kong for personal reasons to make arrangements. But it came at a price: the two 28-day loops actually added up to 12 weeks spent working or in quarantine.
Crew were able to withdraw from the Closed Loop at any point: they just needed to complete the mandatory quarantine requirement.
After the last flight, crew headed to a quarantine hotel to complete a mandatory 7, 14 or 21-day isolation period, depending on destinations served and current regulations. Once they'd completed quarantine, crew continued to undertake medical surveillance for a further 7-14 days at home, which included daily temperature checks and follow-up PCR tests.
How successful was the Loop?
Since we implemented the Closed Loop in February 2021, the system made it possible for us to continue serving Hong Kong by delivering passengers and goods across the world.
In the first eight months of 2021, we didn’t have a single case of COVID-19 among our crew members. Since the emergence of the Delta and Omicron variants, just 16 crew tested positive in the face of more than 230,000 negative tests by the end of 2021: this is a clear indicator of the success of the Closed Loop system.
How did we support our colleagues?
Undergoing long periods of self-isolation is extremely tough, both mentally and physically, so we did everything we can to provide extra support to our people during this period. This included posting dedicated wellbeing resources on our crew intranet, hosting twice weekly calls between the crew in the Loop and senior management, and creating new chat groups on social channels to allow crew to share their experiences and tips. Similarly, our Peer Assistance Network, in consultation with mental health professionals, helped our crew connect with other colleagues to provide support, empathy and advice.
An Employee Assistance Program is also available to provide our crew and their families with confidential guidance and support on any kind of issue – from everyday matters to more serious wellbeing problems.
We also created the FOP Support Team, a new team comprising of pilots, who were tasked with maintaining regular contact with crew members in the Closed Loop to check on their wellbeing. They also actedw as a first port of call for crew, to ensure any problems or questions are handled quickly and directly. Additional allowances were also introduced to financially compensate crew who operated in the Closed Loop.
Through an extended period of uncertainty and in the face of a complex situation, our people continued to adapt and devote themselves to keep Hong Kong connected to the world. We’re thankful to have such a dedicated team.
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