Hong Kong police have arrested and charged two former Cathay Pacific flight attendants with allegations that they violated the city's coronavirus rules.
The statement did not name the airline, but the two - allegedly men aged 44 and 45 - were later confirmed by manager Carrie Lam as former employees of the airline. Lam claimed Tuesday "there is evidence to show that they have violated [epidemic regulations]”.
The announcement comes after Cathay Pacific in January said it had fired two flight crews suspected of violating the Covid-19 protocols.
Police said the couple had returned to Hong Kong from the United States on December 24 and December 25 and then "performed unnecessary activities" during their isolation period. They both later tested positive for the rapidly spreading Omicron strain.
They have been released on bail with their case to be heard in separate courts on 9 February. If convicted, they could face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to HK $ 5,000 ($ 642). They were discharged from the hospital after treatment, according to local media.
Hong Kong follows mainland China's zero-tolerance approach to controlling Covid-19, while the rest of the world shifts to living with coronavirus. But unlike the mainland, the global financial hub is quite dependent on business travelers and imported goods.
Hong Kong's flagship shipping company has been blamed for the initial spread of Omicron to the community, with Lam highlighting Cathay and launching two investigations into the company.
Cathay chairman Patrick Healy said it collaborated with the government on the investigations, which focus on non-compliance with coronavirus rules and crew scheduling on cargo flights, meaning they did not have to undergo hotel quarantine. The two employees who left their home quarantine were reportedly fired. Healy said the majority of Cathay's employees had followed the rules and the strict quarantine under "unsurpassed" circumstances.
The indictment is the latest chapter in a couple of troubled years for Cathay, as it has navigated Hong Kong's Covid-19 measures as well as changed policy. The sanction against the airline has hurt morale as staff face job demands that were unheard of just three years ago. Last year, Cathay's staff spent a total of 200 years - 76,000 nights - in hotel quarantine or in Hong Kong's government facility at Penny's Bay.
Hong Kong has continuously adjusted its flight crew quarantine rules and tightened them dramatically following the Omicron eruption in late December, prompting the airline to cancel most of its scheduled passenger and cargo flights in January.
The airline had struggled to man many flights, even before the rules were tightened, as some destinations relied on pilots who would voluntarily fly penalty plans involving five weeks confined to hotel rooms. All staff are fully vaccinated.