Finnair defends then nixes a face mask ban amid coronavirus fears

Flight crew wearing face masks.

That didn’t take long. Amid fears of the deadly new coronavirus that’s spreading rapidly in China and beyond, Finnair today (Jan. 25) reversed an earlier decision to ban flight attendants from wearing face masks.

The U-turn followed complaints from flight crew based in Hong Kong, where the government has declared a virus emergency, shut down schools, and canceled official visits to mainland China—and where memories of the SARS outbreak (also caused by a coronavirus) in 2003 still haunt many residents.

The Hong Kong flight attendants accused Finnair of putting the safety of employees and passengers at risk, reports the South China Morning Post, as well as violating their basic human rights. Other airlines have also banned flight attendants from donning masks, and Finnair had noted that wearing them mid-flight isn’t a common practice in Europe. According to the Hong Kong newspaper, the company had defended its ban just 19 hour before reversing its decision.

Quartz has reached out to the airline and will update this piece if it responds.

Experts are cautioning against panic, and the WHO has said it’s “too soon” to declare an international public health emergency. But the virus has killed over 40 people in mainland China, where over 1,300 cases have been confirmed, and spread to the US, France, South Korea, and other nations. Chinese authorities have quarantined a dozen cities, while the US and other nations are attempting to evacuate their citizens stuck in Wuhan.

Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s flagship airline, announced on Jan. 22 that flight attendants on all routes would be permitted to wear face masks. Later that day, Hong Kong reported its first two cases of the coronavirus.

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