Saturday, June 13, 2020

Scare in air: Air India crew on edge as Vande Bharat staff test positive for Covid-19

Hyderabad: The Centre’s Vande Bharat Mission might have brought thousands of stranded Indians back home over the last one month, but it has left the Air India crew that flew the aircraft worried. A number of the pilots and cabin crew have tested positive making many of them wonder about the quality of the protective gear they were given.

Sources told TOI that at least four from Hyderabad — two pilots and two cabin crew — tested positive for Covid-19. One cabin crew member was hospitalised while the remaining were home-quarantined. Four cases have been reported from among the Kolkata crew as well. A senior official claimed that the numbers were higher for Delhi and Mumbai.

When TOI asked AI about the four from Hyderabad testing positive for Covid-19, a spokesperson refrained from commenting on it. “To respect the privacy of our employees we will not be able to share this information,” the official said in an email.

The spokesperson also did not comment on the total number of AI staff across India who have tested positive so far.

“We are entirely focussed on our evacuation flights under Vande Bharat Mission and also on our scheduled domestic operations. We are operating in sync with strict safety protocols and taking full care of our employees,” was the AI spokesperson's response.

The spokesperson also said that they are taking care of the medical expenses of all its employees and assured that those testing positive for Covid-19 can “join after recovery and mandatory tests as per laid down procedure”.

Although AI officials maintain that it is providing its crew “with a complete protective gear including face masks, Hazmat suits, gloves, disposable foot covers which are best available in the industry”, the staff disagree. Citing a particular example, another senior pilot said: “We have to change our gloves at least 20 times on a three-hour flight. Also, by the time we finish one trip, our PPE is in tatters.”

“Right now, they are footing the bill for those admitted to hospital. But what happens to those who have to be quarantined? That also involves a cost, especially in cases where people cannot be quarantined at home and have to opt for a paid facility. How are people going to survive?” asked another pilot from Mumbai.

13/06/20 Sudipta Sengupta/Times of India
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