At least seven passengers from three different parties were infectious or potentially infectious on the plane, which flew from Zante on the Greek island of Zakynthos to Cardiff in Wales last week, and now 193 passengers and crew are being asked to self-isolate for two weeks.
“Cardiff and Vale Test Trace Protect and Public Health Wales have identified at least seven confirmed cases of COVID-19 from three different parties who were infectious on TUI Flight 6215 from Zante to Cardiff on 25 August,” Giri Shankar, incident director for the novel coronavirus outbreak response at Public Health Wales, said in a statement.
“As a result, we are advising that all passengers on this flight are considered close contacts and must self-isolate.”
Shankar added that investigations found that the virus had spread to other groups of people because of “a lack of social distancing, in particular by a minority of the 20-30 year age group.”
Passenger Stephanie Whitfield told BBC Radio 4’s Today on Monday that many of the people on the flight weren’t wearing masks properly and behaved as if it was a normal flight during non-pandemic times.
“Lots of the people were wearing the masks underneath their noses or even underneath their chins,” she said. “They were taking the masks off to talk to friends and they were going up and down the aisles to talk to their friends without their masks on.”
“The vast majority” of passengers were not reminded of the rules, she added, mentioning that a flight attendant tried at one point to intervene, but was met with indifference from the offending passenger.
“There was a (man who) sat next to me who had his mask around his chin for the full flight, and the (flight attendant) was talking to him and she didn’t say anything to him,” she said. “The flight was full of selfish ‘covidiots’ and an inept crew who couldn’t care less.”
Whitfield wasn’t surprised to hear about the COVID-19 outbreak on board, and said she and her husband had both been experiencing mild cold-like symptoms since the flight and are self-isolating.
Another passenger, Lee Evans, told BBC News that airplane staff were touching and handling passengers’ phones to check their boarding passes, among other unsanitary practices.
“It was a free-for-all to get on the plane,” said Evans. “There were people switching seats.”
TUI Airlines released a statement and announced it would be launching a full investigation into the flight.
“The safety and well-being of passengers and crew is our highest priority and we operate all flights line with European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) guidelines,” said the company. “Our crew are trained to the highest standards (and) a full investigation is now underway as these concerns weren’t reported during the flight or before today.”
It also reiterated its masks policy in a statement Monday.
“Passengers are informed prior to travel and via PA announcements on the flight that they have to wear masks throughout and are not allowed to move around the cabin. Masks can only be removed when consuming food and drink.”
Starting Sept. 1, WestJet and Air Canada will have strict mask policies in place on their aircraft. Only those with some pre-existing medical conditions are exempt; otherwise, violators will face hefty punishments including a 12-month ban on flying with the carrier.
— With files from Reuters & The Canadian PressView link »