17 SIA staff in Singapore tested positive for COVID-19 in March and April: internal memos

Singapore Airlines flight crew arrive at Sydney's international airport on March 16, 2020. - Australia announced on March 15 that anyone arriving into the country will face mandatory 14-day self-isolation, in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (Photo by PETER PARKS / AFP) (Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)
Singapore Airlines flight crew arriving at Sydney's international airport on 16 March, 2020. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

By Teng Yong Ping and Reta Lee

Updated on 23 April with one new 17th infection case in SIA, one more recovery and vendor cases.

SINGAPORE — A total of 17 Singapore Airlines (SIA) employees working in the city-state have been infected with the coronavirus in recent weeks, according to the airline’s internal messages seen by Yahoo Lifestyle SEA.

SIA is working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the Ministry of Health to implement measures to prevent the spread of the virus, and updating its staff about the cases and measures.

Based on several messages circulated by management to SIA staff, the 17 infected Singapore-based employees had tested positive for the coronavirus in March and April.

Of the infected cases, 15 are flight crew members while the remaining two are ground crew from SIA Engineering Company, who were based in the airport apron area. Four of the flight crew cases are pilots while 11 are flight attendants. Nine of the cases have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

SIA also reported in the staff circulars that three vendor workers had tested positive for the COVID-19 disease. Two were based in Airline House and the other in Tech SQ Data Centre.

In response to queries from Yahoo Lifestyle SEA, a spokesperson with the SIA group, which also owns SilkAir and Scoot, said, “Singapore Airlines can confirm that several of our crew members tested positive for COVID-19 in March and April 2020. SIA has been providing all necessary support to our staff who test positive for COVID-19, and we continue to monitor the situation closely to take steps to ensure the health and safety of all customers and staff.”

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The company circulars revealed that the infected crew members had worked on Singapore-based routes to and from Auckland, London, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Houston, Manchester, Kuala Lumpur, New York, Sydney, Amsterdam and Munich.

As airlines worldwide floundered in the wake of plummeting travel demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, SIA announced on 23 March that it would reduce its capacity by 96 per cent, ground most of its fleet and implement aggressive cost-cutting measures. SIA’s largest shareholder, Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, said it would underwrite the airline’s move to raise S$15 billion in funds by issuing new shares and bonds.

SIA and SilkAir announced on their website on Monday (20 April) that both airlines will operate a reduced schedule of services in May in response to the pandemic.

In the announcement, SIA and SilkAir said within Southeast Asia, they will fly to cities like Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila during the month. They will also fly to Chongqing, Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Sydney, Los Angeles, London, Frankfurt and Zurich.

Precautionary measures for flight crews

SIA also addressed the precautionary measures it has put in place as a result of the cases in its reply.

The SIA spokesperson said, “We support the Ministry of Health’s contact tracing efforts after every positive case. All crew members who operate on the same flights as these individuals are grounded and asked to take a leave of absence. Anyone who may have come into contact with the individuals is asked to monitor their health for symptoms related to the virus. In addition, the premises that these individuals may have visited are disinfected.”

“As a precautionary measure, temporary adjustments have been made to our in-flight services on a number of flights,” the spokesperson added. “These include, but are not limited to, catering out of Singapore for all flight sectors, removal of seatback literature for selected cabins, as well as the temporary suspension of in-flight sales and hot towel service.”

Two SIA crew members spoke to Yahoo Lifestyle SEA on condition of anonymity about the preventive measures and their concerns about the pandemic. Flight crews face risks of exposure to the coronavirus as they interact with travellers from a range of locations on board the aircraft.

Among these measures are mandatory wearing of masks for cabin crew, and providing hand sanitisers and gloves for them on board flights. Flight crew members have to take their temperatures before they board flights.

During layovers, flight staff are strictly required to stay inside their own hotel rooms.

One flight crew member said, “Face masks were provided to us since January, and cabin crew were allowed to wear masks on a discretionary basis (initially).” SIA eventually made it mandatory for crew staff to wear masks during flights beginning from 7 March.

He said, “I’ve been staying at home since March, but I did not display any sick symptoms. I was not worried, I felt that there was low exposure even with confirmed cases on board.”

A male flight attendant, however, felt that the company mandated the wearing of masks too late. “At first they allowed us the option of wearing masks, and some crew chose not to wear them because of comfort or they didn’t believe it was that serious. Some also feared that the mask would mess up their grooming such as lipstick. Before wearing masks was made mandatory, some of the crew would remark and reprimand you if you didn't put lipstick on when you wore a mask.”

He is worried about his personal safety while on duty as he felt that current measures might not prevent the virus from spreading on board flights.