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Coronavirus: High anxiety

Flight attendants speak to theSun about how the Covid-19 outbreak has affected their work routine

14 Feb 2020 / 11:50 H.

PETALING JAYA: Paranoia, alarm and heightened vigilance. These are some of the reactions of flight crew to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).

For them, it is a grim reminder of the severe acute respiratory symptom (SARS) pandemic of 2002-2003.

The SARS virus infected more than 5,000 people and left 349 dead in China.

A flight attendant of a domestic airline told theSun yesterday that when news of the Covid-19 outbreak hit the headlines, there was fear among flight crew members that they could get infected by being in close quarters with passengers.

“Of course we were worried. There was a lot of anxiety and some panic, but the nature of our job requires us to remain calm,” he said.

The flight attendant said everyone was put on high alert, which triggered panic in some.

“Immediately, we were instructed to ensure personal hygiene and to put on masks to protect ourselves.”

He said passengers were even more paranoid and it became increasingly difficult to deal with them.

“They would demand face masks, an item that we don’t normally provide on board,” he added.

He recalled having to offload a passenger on suspicion that she could be infected.

“She was coughing quite badly and it was very troublesome to persuade her to get off the plane,” he said.

“At first, she refused and argued with us but later relented and agreed to take another flight.”

A flight attendant on a foreign carrier said she and her colleagues have become paranoid about their personal hygiene and keeping the cabin clean.

“As front-liners, we are put at greater risk so it should not come as a surprise that we want to do everything to stay safe.”

She said everyone carried his own hand sanitisers, and there are occasions when they even put on gloves to avoid direct contact with items in the cabin.

“These may seem like little things, but we must not take them lightly. We can’t afford to be complacent.”

She said even on flights to Europe where there have been fewer infections, some of the flight attendants would still keep their face masks on.

“We also have to be on standby mode whenever any of the passengers show signs of illness,” she added.

She said the flight attendants have to be extra vigilant in monitoring passengers to identify those who show signs of illness.

“These passengers will have to be offloaded.”

There is paranoia among the passengers, too. She said most Asian travellers or those travelling to other Asian destinations are significantly more fearful of contracting Covid-19.

“The atmosphere can sometimes be quite tense on these flights. However, on flights to Europe, where most of the passengers are westerners, it is a little more relaxed,” she said.

But the flight attendant is taking all the horrors in her stride.

“We have been trained to deal with such situations, so we do our best not to show panic even if we are scared inside.”

A virologist told theSun that airlines have managed to lower the risk to crew and passengers by thoroughly cleaning the cabin after each flight.

“They have their cleaning crew to do that. Another fact that helps to reduce the risk of infection is that the virus does not survive long on dry and hard surfaces,” he said.

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