COVID-19 in Croatia: Two Croatia Airlines' Pilots Infected on Frankfurt-Zagreb Flight

May 18, 2020 - Croatia Airlines announced on Sunday afternoon that two pilots from the Frankfurt-Zagreb flight on May 2 tested positive for the coronavirus, while other crew members tested negative. There were 14 people on the flight who were confirmed to be infected.

Slobodna Dalmacija reports that at first, members of the National Headquarters claimed that there were 74 people on the flight, and now they say that an error occurred and that there were 115 people on the plane. As many as nine patients are workers of the company Đuro Đaković Montaža from Slavonski Brod who were returning from Sweden.

The Croatia Airlines press release transmitted in its entirety:

"Croatia Airlines has consistently complied with and implemented all decisions and recommendations of the European, German and Croatian public health and aviation authorities, and by flying on flight OU411 Frankfurt - Zagreb from April 1 to May 10, 2020, it enabled the return to Croatia of more than 3,500 Croatian citizens, who were caught in the global pandemic around the world.

For all those passengers, as potential carriers of the infection, and according to the decisions of the public health authorities, self-isolation of 14 days was prescribed upon arrival in Croatia. Given that these flights were performed in the context of the global coronavirus pandemic, risk assessments were continuously conducted, which were coordinated by the Croatia Airlines Crisis and Emergency Management Office. The estimated loss of the company related to the flights Zagreb - Frankfurt - Zagreb in the mentioned period amounted to 244,000 euro.

According to the results of the diagnostic processing, Croatia Airlines can confirm that two pilots from the flight Frankfurt - Zagreb on May 2 this year tested positive for the coronavirus, while all other cabin crew members who were in direct contact with passengers were negative.

The presence of the coronavirus in flight crew members cannot be associated with passengers who arrived on the same flight and who were found to be positive for COVID-19 by subsequent diagnostic processing. The pilots of the aircraft, namely, sit in a cabin that is physically separated from the passenger compartment of the aircraft and during, before or after the flight, are not and cannot be in close contact with the passengers.

Furthermore, all positive passengers from the said flight were workers returning from Sweden, and two passengers, a married couple who had arrived from Spain. According to the data available so far, none of the other passengers and cabin crew members are infected, so it is not possible to find a common link between the pilot and passengers, and it is unnecessary to state the seating schedule and occupancy of the aircraft as the reason for the spread.

It should be reminded that the crew of the aircraft from the said flight was notified of the event immediately after establishing the presence of a positive passenger on the flight and was preventively relieved of all flight duties for a period of 14 days in accordance with the internal protocol for dealing with such situations, with the obligation to report to the chosen family doctor and to act in accordance with public health recommendations.

Also, in accordance with the procedures and protocol, a self-isolation measure was established for the entire crew as a precautionary measure. Their health condition is monitored on a daily basis, while all the necessary tests are still carried out, taking care at all times of the safety of employees as well as passengers.

Also, in accordance with the protocol on dealing with a crisis situation and an emergency, all required data (seating schedule from the suspected passenger - the row in which he sat, and two front and rear rows) on passengers and crew members on the above were submitted on May 8, 2020, to the Service for Epidemiology of Infectious Diseases of the CNIPH.

The completed forms (Passenger Locator Form - PLF) on passengers are handed over by the airline to the representatives of the airport upon arrival, which in accordance with the request of the Croatian Civil Agency, has an obligation to keep and archive the forms for 30 days. If requested by the competent authorities, as was the case for the Frankfurt - Zagreb flight on 2 May, the air carrier is obliged to provide information on passengers and crew members, as well as the airport of arrival, which submits PLF forms to the competent authorities.

All protection measures implemented by Croatia Airlines against the outbreak of the COVID-19 infection are fully compliant with the recommendations and instructions of public health authorities, and during the flight, it is mandatory to use protective equipment and means for the entire crew (masks, gloves, disinfectants) and use of goggles and protective suits.

According to previous research conducted by international health and regulatory authorities, the possibility of infection in the aircraft is extremely small, given that air enters the cabin of the aircraft from the atmosphere and is purified by modern filters, and circulates vertically in the passenger cabin (bottom to top, and vice versa) rather than horizontally.

It should be reiterated and emphasized that the flight crew of the aircraft (captain and first officer of the aircraft) sit in the cockpit, which is physically separated from the passenger compartment and does not come into close contact with them during boarding and disembarking. Close contact of aircraft cabin crew is also minimal, given that since the beginning of the epidemic crisis, measures have been introduced in which the service of food and beverages onboard is abolished, and close contact with passengers is minimized, all in order to protect members crew and all passengers of Croatia Airlines.

Since the beginning of the epidemic, recommendations have been issued for passengers to wear masks in flight to protect themselves, crew members and other passengers, and as of May 4, the company implemented a decision on mandatory face covers and in-flight masks for all passengers. An electronic version of the PLF form has also been published on the company's website, and passengers are advised to fill it out before the flight and hand it over to the aircraft crew, and if they fail to do so, they must bring their own pen to complete the said form during the flight.

Also, passengers are required to check their health before arriving at the airport. It should be emphasized that by May 10, no recommendation of the public health authorities of the Republic of Croatia on air transport or on limiting the capacity of aircraft was issued. Until then, the planning of the seating arrangement of passengers in the aircraft was done by leaving space between them, if possible, while blocking 18 seats in the last three rows in the Airbus fleet and 14 seats in the Dash 8-Q400 fleet to accommodate passengers at which would be observed symptoms of COVID-19.

As of May 10, passenger seating planning is planned so that, if possible (depending on aircraft occupancy, aircraft configuration and aircraft balancing calculation procedure, etc.), the maximum possible distance between passengers is left and the rear row of seats is blocked throughout fleet, as well as one business class seat on the Q400 fleet.

It should be noted that the international regulatory bodies (IATA, EASA) also do not prescribe limiting the capacity of aircraft, but recommend everything as previously stated and what has been fully implemented so far," said Croatia Airlines in a statement.

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