26 Emirates Passengers Arriving In Hong Kong Test Positive For Coronavirus

Filed Under: Emirates

An Emirates flight on Saturday may have just set a record for the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases on a single flight, and also contributed to Hong Kong’s highest daily spike in new cases in over two months.

26 Emirates passengers test positive for COVID-19

Emirates has resumed passenger flights in recent weeks, including to Hong Kong. On Saturday, June 20, 2020, an Emirates Boeing 777-300ER operated flight #380 from Dubai to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong still has strict immigration requirements, with most visitors being banned from entering (at least most people can now transit Hong Kong International Airport). Entry is primarily restricted to returning residents, and they have to be tested for coronavirus upon arrival.

Unfortunately this particular flight had at least 26 passengers test positive for COVID-19. That’s the highest number of confirmed cases I’ve heard of from any flight (though that may be because testing isn’t required after flights to most destinations, so there could be flights with more cases we just never knew of).

26 passengers on an Emirates flight tested positive for coronavirus

What do we know about the passengers?

Hong Kong authorities have published the seat assignments of the passengers who tested positive for coronavirus. So, were they all seated together in a cluster? It would appear not. Rather they were spread out throughout the cabin.

There were passengers who tested positive in rows 18, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 33, 34, 36, 40, and 44.

What these passengers do have in common is that they were all connecting from Pakistan, which has seen a huge spike in cases in recent weeks. We don’t know:

  • If these passengers were all seated close to one another on the flight from Pakistan to Dubai
  • If the passengers knew one another
  • If the passengers just happened to all have independently picked up coronavirus in Pakistan

While we can’t be 100% sure, it’s believed that more often than not people can’t infect others with coronavirus just minutes or hours after being exposed themselves. Given that testing occurred immediately upon arrival, it seems most likely that the passengers who tested positive already had coronavirus before starting their journey. It does make you wonder how many others they may have spread it to while traveling, though.

Airlines across the globe have introduced a variety of new safety protocols. In addition to customers having to wear masks when flying Emirates, there’s also thermal screening at Dubai Airport. Presumably these passengers didn’t cause any alarm there, or they wouldn’t have been allowed to continue their journey.

A few weeks ago a Qatar Airways flight from Doha to Athens made headlines when 12 arriving passengers tested positive for coronavirus. That caused Greece to temporarily ban Qatar Airways from flying to Athens.

This happened in spite of the precautions that Emirates is taking

Bottom line

26 Emirates passengers on a single flight to Hong Kong tested positive for coronavirus, which is the highest number of confirmed cases I’ve ever heard of from a flight, and also caused Hong Kong’s biggest single day increase in cases in over a couple of months.

Based on everything we know, the risk of transmission of coronavirus on planes is fairly low (given the air filtration systems, and also given the precautions being taken).

This leaves us wondering whether any of these passengers picked up coronavirus during the journey from Pakistan to Hong Kong, or whether they all boarded their first flight with it. If they didn’t pick it up during the journey, presumably they were at least somewhat asymptomatic, as they were allowed to continue to fly.

It’s certainly alarming to hear of this many coronavirus cases on a single flight…

  1. If these passengers were all tested immediately after the flight it means almost certainly they picked up the infection before they boarded the flights. The virus has an incubation period which argues against them getting infected in the plane

  2. Doesn’t it take a day or two after exposure for a positive test result to show? It seems vastly more likely that these folks were already infected before boarding.

  3. This thing is wide spread and the majority of the world probably has the virus without symptoms. Just because you test negative virus one week doesn’t mean you haven’t picked it up or won’t pick it up the next week. Unless you are testing people on a monthly basis, the true numbers will never be known. TL;DR: This virus is here to stay so we shouldn’t be shocked when more people test positive.

  4. @Adam: “The virus has an incubation period which argues against them getting infected in the plane”

    Incubation isn’t a synonym of infection. Incubation refers to the period of time between being infected and showing symptoms. You can, however, catch Covid19 today, get tested positive tomorrow, and only develop symptoms ten days later.

  5. You are not going to become infected on a flight and A few hours later test positive when landing. They were all infected in Pakistan.

  6. @Adam
    It doesnt really matter how they picked it up. The fact remains that airlines will continue to spread the virus around the world for as long as they keep flying.

  7. I fail to see why this is even being published. 1) Rates in Pakistan are skyrocketing, 2) All the passengers began their journey in Pakistan and connected in Dubai, 3) They weren’t seated together. The logical conclusion – they weren’t infected in flight and were asymptomatic before the journey began.

    Of all the posts where face masks aren’t mentioned… Emirates requires them, no? And wouldn’t the effectiveness of the masks make it statistically unlikely/impossible for so many people to be infected from a flight?

  8. Do we know if they were tested before boarding the original flight? That seems like a super important step that should be happening then we would know perhaps how many were infected on the flights or at least have a better idea since obviously some folks could be infected in the hours/day before their flight and not test positive immediately so we couldn’t be sure but at least you could say that everyone boarding the plane successfully tested negative. Maybe airlines don’t want do that since it would increase the fear level of people flying?


  9. Guaranteed there is a flight in the air right now somewhere over USA with >26 infected people.

  10. Some competent aviation authority in conjunction with WHO should issue an advisory to produce mandatory COVID19 negative test result for every passenger before boarding a flight.

    No airline will do this as it will affect their business prospects.

  11. Wasn’t a lot of the passengers on the QR flight to Athens also from Pakistan? I have absolutely no plans to fly anytime soon, but if I was then I would avoid connecting at any airport with direct links to Pakistan. The whole subcontinent is a dangerous breeding ground for pandemics as they’re densely populated and limited access to running water. Wonder what the real numbers are, as testing in most places across the world is limited.

  12. Ben, you can check hk government website https://www.chp.gov.hk/files/pdf/local_situation_covid19_en.pdf
    According to the data, 23 of the people infected on that date was asymptomatic so there was no way they can tell by temperature checks at the various airports. Other people might have caught it on the plane and this is why everyone on that plane will also be quarantined for 2 weeks at a government facility.

  13. In the case of the U.S., given the average number of infections per 100K people and our reaching over 600K people daily on planes, you can assume that hundreds are flying with Covid right at this very moment. While this was a cluster on one aircraft it’s not too shocking in reality. It’s probably happening every day all over the world. This EK flight will be an interesting study to see how many of the passengers test positive in the days ahead.

  14. @David

    Everyone entering Hong Kong need to be quarantined for 2 weeks, even if the plan has no single case. Some will be quarantined at home, while some (coming home high risk countries such as Pakistan) will be quarantined for at a government facility.

  15. I don’t know why this is news. This is the new normal, at least until a vaccine (if and when one is developed). But what about other diseases? The cold? Flu? Measles? You name it. The fact is humans are sick and we spread diseases all the time. Coronavirus is bad but there are lots of other bad diseases too. I’m sure in 10 years we’ll see a new virus. The reality is most of what the hotels and airlines are doing is lipstick on a pig. It’s marketing-speak with little actual benefit because as this flight demonstrates it just takes one passenger.

  16. @OMAAT without knowing the actual facts. Please DON’T give these kind of judgement and prediction in regards to virus spread. You are just a blogger not medical specialist. It will be great if YOU can just stick to travel review instead.

  17. They all clearly contracted the virus well before they departed Pakistan. It’s not like you can pick it up along the way and test positive by the time you land. It takes at least a couple of days before you would test positive. Also, those tests are not 100% accurate. You do get false negatives and false positives.

  18. 26 x all the people they infected on this flight. Gonna be a long while before things are normal again

  19. Of the 30 or 40 countries I wouldn’t visit now, Pakistan is right at the top of the list. Do we assume this was a repatriation flight for Hong Kong residents? If not, it would be insane to have an open border for Pakistani nationals…regardless of quarantine requirements ( we’ve seen a major cluster in Australia involving contract staff working at one of the hotels hosting quarantining returnees)
    The story underlines the need to avoid unnecessary air travel , even if the likelihood of becoming infected onboard is remote)

  20. ‪I think the main point is DO NOT FLY UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY. You are putting others that may not be as healthy you at risk‬

  21. Tbh, I don’t even get as to why flights even operate to Pakistan anymore. Cases are spiking in Pakistan like never before (especially after they opened up air travel both domestically and internationally). Many of the QR pax who tested positive on the flight to Athens were from Pakistan. And now, EK as well? Either the Pakistani government has to re-impose air travel restrictions or else it could end up making other parts of the globe as new hotspots for the virus.

    @BOSFlyer – Yes, I believe they stopped their -Quick 10 minute YAY-OR-NAY COVID-19 test-. And I remember reading somewhere that they even stopped testing their crew (not sure of the authenticity of this info)

    Jesus Christ, the row-wise chart just reveals how contagious the virus is. (Now please don’t attack me with -Oh, even Flu is as contagious as COVID-19, mah body, mah rules, if I get COVID, I’m getting it). And for god’s sake, please travel only when it is necessary. You could end up transferring the virus onto someone and some of them could even die!

  22. @Ben you mean the “window period,” not the “incubation period.” That’s the time it takes before a test can accurately return a positive result, which I’ve heard is at last a day, maybe two for COVID-19.

    If all 26 passengers kept their masks on, didn’t really talk and certainly didn’t cough etc then maybe? probably? they didn’t infect anyone. It would be great if HK announced how many other people on the flight eventually get sick.

  23. So clearly they were infected before they boarded. Clearly they spread the virus to some number of others on the plane, quite likely many others – they were seated throughout the cabin, and considering how extremely transmissible this virus is (and how long the flight was), it’s very possible they infected every single person on the plane (very likely including the cabin crew). And this is despite the highly visible measures that airline is touting.

    This pandemic is going to continue to spread like wildfire in a tinder-dry forest.

    Nobody should be flying now unless it’s a life-or-death emergency.

  24. So I have a lot of questions. First, if I inhale the virus in flight by sitting close to someone who is infected (remember, asymptomatic patients can spread the virus within 48h of showing symptoms) and get the PCR test, will I show positive? From the way it is tested, I feel like I should. Maybe someone with expertise can answer? If my logic is right, then people could have got the virus on flight.

    Second, Lucky, where did you get this info: “it’s believed that more often than not people can’t infect others with coronavirus just minutes or hours after being exposed themselves.”

    Third, I thought the study about airplane transmission was funded/ordered by IATA, so shouldn’t we suspect the results? Usually this is not allowed in my peer-reviewed journals…

  25. another question, I read the some passengers showed symptoms before boarding, so what is EK’s policy on prevention?

  26. @BOS Flyer – Emirates tested passengers for ONE flight, which was a requirement imposed by the Government of Tunisia. They got plenty of publicity out of it though.

  27. The air filtration on the aircraft has nothing to do with lowering the risk of COVID19 since this virus isn’t airborne. Also, transit passengers are not being tested now therefore the problem.

  28. There is a risk of you fly and the destination country quarantines all the passengers on a flight , even if only one is discovered to have Covid

    However how do they trace everyone assuming they’d all moved on to connecting flights ?

    Hopefully these are all mild cases , however there’s a risk other travellers may have caught the virus Hopefully not

  29. Is there any way for contract tracing within the flight – were all passengers quarantined after arrival in HK? Curious to find out how many passengers showed positive a few more days after.

  30. This is all lipstick on a pig that airlines keep saying “safe travel options”. Even CDC officials have said you can not detect and hence you might be a carrier of the virus. Emirates doesn’t keep two hoots – they simply do a temp check and wave you onto next flight in transit. Because it’s not their problem as long as they don’t enter Dubai. The main thing is stay home – even if u have mild symptoms – passing the disease to someone who is vulnerable is the single worst thing you can do. If u can stay home please please do so

  31. Enough is enough. I’m sick of armchair experts pontificating about Covid. The replies to your posts, Lucky, are becoming stale, boring and political hateful…..though some commentators are farcical but entertaining.
    Your insidious, despicable and hateful president’s followers have ruined the integrity of your comments section.
    So sad.
    Lucky, republish previous travel reports, and any new information on loyalty programs and credit card offers.

  32. It’s funny how people here and point fingers at Pakistan when the United States has become The world’s coronavirus hellhole

  33. Why blame Pakistan or any other Poor country, when China/Europe/US are the biggest exporters of Coronavirus and spread it all over the world, Ridiculous. Not every country is capable of handling such a big mess. Just like the UAE and some other countries that require a negative RT-PCR test, every country should enforce this rather than a blanket ban on any country. 14-day Quarantine for all arriving pax no matter where they coming from. That’s the only way to go ahead and get over this mess created by the “Worlds MOST Developed & Advance Countries “.

  34. This isn’t an isolated event. Emirates has been having numerous issues with passengers and crew testing positive on the flights, basically a daily occurrence. They’re obviously not making this public because of the backlash they would receive on the revenue generation. I’ve heard from numerous flight attendants at Emirates and Qatar Airways that it’s practically a daily occurance and a majority of their crews are in hotels for quarantine now and putting pressure on the staffing of flights for July. I for one would avoid flying any of the ME3 carriers for the time being. Their respective governments only care about making money and propping up their own pocketbooks. Why should they care if it is other nationalities dying? As long as their own people are safe, keep flying! When July 7 comes, and the UAE opens itself up again, they’re in for a nasty surprise second wave (that is if the first ever truly ended in the UAE).

  35. @ Paolo Yes, this was a repatriation flight . There are many Hong Kong born Pakistanis who have lived and worked in Hong Kong since it was established in 1840 . They are permanent residents and many work as policemen, prison service , security guards and businessmen. Many went to Pakistan for Chinese New Year holidays in January and got stranded there. They were coming home .

  36. You may want to do a follow up on this, because there is more fun to this story.

    On the same flight, there are 11 passengers with mainland China as destination. Currently, travellers to mainland China are not allowed to transit through Hong Kong, but Emirates let them on EK380 without checking this. They were stranded in Hong Kong airport as they were refused boarding for the flight to China.
    One of them then tried to claim that he is a wanted man in China! This was denied by the Chinese police.
    Finally after 5 days stuck at the airport (when transit passengers are normally allowed 8 hours maximum), 1 decided to return to Dubai, 9 were sent to quarantine centre, and 1 was taken to hospital having developed symptoms (not surprising if he is infected, considering that one third of the passengers on the 8 hour flight tested positive on arrival). Back in March, some mainland Chinese tried the same trick and were given free passage across the border, so I suspect that these 10 Chinese nationals will probably get the same treatment, which will set a bad precedent and encourage more people to do the same.

    Needless to say, there is considerable anger in Hong Kong about Emirates. Justified or not, people get the impression that they just sell tickets, take the payment and not give 2 hoots about the safety of passengers, their staff, or the staff working in Hong Kong airport (with 11 potentially infected people wandering around the restricted area for 5 days). I hope that they get a heavy penalty for importing infected ethnic Pakistanis and flying in banned transit passengers.

  37. We are due to fly Brisbane to London next week and are petrified because no pre testing will be done.
    And they advise the 777 aircraft is FULL with no social distancing.

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