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COVID-19: Airlines should shy away from commenting on health matters

COVID-19: Airlines should shy away from commenting on health matters

What is it with today? Australian airlines just can’t stop poking their noses into health matters.

Jayne Hrdlicka from Virgin yesterday, and Qantas today. Mind you Qantas does have some skin in the game on this controversy, given they are running the repatriation flights out of India.

Background

This morning my watch buzzed with this story from the ABC’s India correspondent James Oaten, who was due to leave India on the first repatriation flight out of India in May but was not allowed to board due to a low, but positive COVID-19 test. You should read the whole story, but here is the main point:

I now have reports from 22 passengers whose tests came back in the same “low” range mine did. Twelve have provided copies of negative COVID-19 tests conducted after the hotel quarantine. One of those has acquired a test showing they do not have COVID antibodies, suggesting they’ve never been in contact with the virus. There remain serious questions about the accuracy of the testing lab used.

ABC News Online

Qantas denial

Qantas contracted the testing company, which reputedly had lost its license to conduct COVID-19 tests. You can read the Qantas full response here.

According to Qantas, all tests were re-run over the weekend, and were confirmed.

The passengers who tested negative and ultimately flew on the 14 May repatriation service were also given a rapid antigen test prior to boarding, and tested again by NT Health over the first 24 hours of their stay at Howard Springs. Both sets of tests validated the original results, with only one additional passenger testing positive at Howard Springs, suggesting this person contracted COVID prior to leaving India but had yet to develop the infection.

Considering all of these data points, Qantas and DFAT do not believe that any passengers booked on this flight were denied boarding in error.

Qantas statement

Qantas does detail a range of anomolies about the testing proceedure, but is confident that none of them would have altered the final results or the barring of passengers who tested ‘positive’. But – they are changing their testing supplier for the future.

“We’ve been working hard to design a system that keeps our people, passengers and the Australian public safe. Managing a COVID testing regime in India at the moment is inherently difficult but these results have been checked again and we’re confident they are right.

Dr Ian Hosegood, Qantas Group Chief Medical Officer

This still doesn’t quite match the evidence James Oates puts forward in his online ABC article when several potential passengers where retested and tested negative:

Passengers who have since tested negative want a second chance to board a flight before a required two-week isolation period is complete.

My test results arrived on Sunday evening.

I am negative.

James Oaten, Australia’s coronavirus evacuation flight from India left me behind due to an inaccurate test, ABC News Online

But according to the Qantas statement – I think James Oaten and partner will be waiting 14 days:

Qantas is now working with DFAT to prioritise passengers who were unable to board the flight to take up a future flight, once the mandatory 14 day time frame following a positive test has elapsed.

2PAXfly Takeout

The aviation industry is having to cope with a lot at the moment, as are governments. Qantas and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade need a problem like this, like a hole in the head.

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