In March of this year, just as the coronavirus pandemic was beginning to rear its ugly head, a woman who was working for Biogen Inc. failed to disclose that she had contracted COVID-19 and flew from Massachusetts to China.
She was able to avoid detection by taking a large dose of anti-fever medication before boarding her flight, though the incident eventually came to light and she was fired by the company, a Cambridge, Mass. neurosciences firm with offices in 38 countries.
It likely wasn’t the first time somebody lied about being infected with the virus.
And, according to Fortune magazine, it won’t be the last.
Fortune is reporting that people infected with coronavirus were allowed to board aircraft and travel to Hong Kong in recent days, an unfortunate side effect to even the best efforts to avoid having that happen that many airlines are now dealing with.
As many temperature checks that are taken, as many health forms that are filled out, they still don’t prevent a determined passenger from simply lying or, as the woman from Biogen did, taking enough medicine to temporarily lower a fever below the 100.4 degrees that is generally considered safe to fly.
Hong Kong’s health authority said one infected passenger arrived Sunday from Manila on a Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. flight, and another was on a Cathay Dragon flight from Kuala Lumpur. Both were diagnosed with the virus before they traveled.
The health authority also said 45 passengers on Emirates flights from Dubai over the weekend either were confirmed or probable cases. The airline only restarted flights to Hong Kong earlier this month.
As the article pointed out, the Hong Kong cases show that infected passengers can bypass voluntary requirements and there’s little airlines can do.
“Taking temperatures and having passengers wear masks on flights are steps we can do to ensure the virus doesn’t spread,” Korean Air Lines Co. said in a statement to Fortune. “For measures to be put in place to ensure infected passengers don’t fly, it has to be done by the authorities and it’s not something an airline like us can do on our own.”
Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection said the 30 new cases on Monday and 16 on Tuesday all had a travel history during the incubation period. The passenger flying on Cathay Flight 906 from Manila, a 58-year-old man, tested positive in the Philippines on Saturday, the day before he arrived.
Cathay said it learned about the passenger from health authorities after the plane landed. The airline is following “prescribed procedures in conducting disinfection of aircraft and informing the operating crew and employees,” as well as helping to trace those who were in close contact with the man.
A spokesman for the Philippine Immigration Bureau said it wasn’t the agency’s job to check health clearances.
The passenger on Cathay Dragon Flight 734 was a 39-year-old woman returning from India via Malaysia, Hong Kong’s health department said Tuesday. After landing, she declared she’d tested positive and had been treated for the virus in India last month.