Two former Cathay Pacific flight attendants who were accused by health authorities of helping spread the Omicron variant in Hong Kong have been convicted of breaching Covid-19 home quarantine rules last December, when the city’s fifth wave of the pandemic began.

Wong Yoon-loong, 45 and Nilsson Lau, 44 were found guilty of three charges of “being a person subject to medical surveillance [who] failed to observe the conditions specified by a health officer” by Eastern Magistrate Edward Wong on Thursday, local media reported.

Eastern Magistrates' Courts
Eastern Magistrates’ Courts. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Wong and Lau arrived in Hong Kong from the US on December 24 and 25, respectively. They were required to isolate at home for three days, but were allowed out to exercise or buy food, medical supplies and daily necessities.

Wong broke the rule by leaving his Sheung Wan residence to visit Lau at his Tuen Mun home on December 25, the day Lau arrived.

festival walk shopping mall
Festival Walk. Photo: GovHK.

The allegations against Lau stemmed from his visit to pick up a package on the day he landed and to Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong on December 27. He went to the Apple Store in the shopping mall and had lunch with his father and a friend at a restaurant there called Moon Palace. The eatery later became known as the source of an Omicron outbreak.

The pair subsequently became infected and were arrested in January. They were sacked by the airline.

moon palace
Moon Palace. Photo: Lubuds.

Under the Covid-19 restrictions at the time, arrivals apart from exempted groups were required to complete up to 21 days of quarantine in a designated hotel, depending on where they were flying from.

People in exempted groups, including flight crew, were allowed to undergo medical surveillance at their own home. However, barring necessary activities, they could only leave their homes after receiving a negative Covid-19 test result on their third day.

Guilty plea rejected

The cabin crew members originally pleaded guilty in April, claiming they genuinely believed they were allowed to leave home and dine out under the guidelines Cathay gave them. But their pleas were rejected, with the magistrate saying their “honest and reasonable belief” could amount to a defence and ordering the case to go to trial. They then pleaded not guilty.

Cathay Pacific plane grounded travel airplane
Cathay Pacific planes. File Photo: GovHK.

In closing statements, according to Ming Pao, the defendants’ lawyers said they really believed they had not breached the rules, adding the airline had not stated clearly what behaviour was banned. The prosecution said ignorance was not a defence.

The magistrate, quoted by NowTV, said the offences were serious as they abused the privileges given to them as aircrew and their outings were not necessary.

The pair had been on bail throughout the trial but after their convictions, Wong ordered them to be held in custody until sentencing on December 1.

Hong Kong has recorded just over two million infections and 10,577 deaths, according to the government’s Covid-19 dashboard.

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Almond Li

Almond Li

Almond Li is a Hong Kong-based journalist who previously worked for Reuters and Happs TV as a freelancer, and as a reporter at Hong Kong International Business Channel, Citizen News and Commercial Radio Hong Kong. She earned her Masters in Journalism at the University of Southern California. She has an interest in LGBT+, mental health and environmental issues.