Cathay Pacific said it will let its crew members wear surgical masks on all its routes in response to the spread of a deadly virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Hong Kong’s flag carrier had previously only allowed crew members on flights to mainland China to wear the masks in the wake of the news of the new coronavirus spreading, but yesterday changed its policy after the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union urged the airline to extend its policy to all flights worldwide.

“Due to the evolving information from health authorities, we will allow crew members and frontline airport employees to wear surgical face masks when on duty at their discretion,” Cathay said in a statement emailed to Business Traveller Asia-Pacific today.

Cathay Pacific is also permitting frontline airport employees to wear surgical masks.

Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union said in a post on its Facebook page on Tuesday that it wasn’t enough to just allow crew members on flights to mainland China to wear the surgical masks and urged the airline to let all cabin crew members wear the masks on all of its flights, saying “it will be too late and too painful for all of us and the Company to wait until one of our own is infected” and “the damage caused will be catastrophic”.

Yesterday, the union posted a statement saying Cathay Pacific had only agreed to extend the measure of wearing masks inflight to Mainland China flights only.

Chinese authorities first alerted the World Health Organisation (WHO) about a number of pneumonia-like cases in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, last month. The WHO identified it as a new coronavirus, a large group of viruses common among animals. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

All public transport in and out of Wuhan, including trains, buses and ferries, stopped at 10am on Thursday after the Chinese government imposed a quarantine to try to contain the spread of a coronavirus that has so far killed 17 people, according to the South China Morning Post.

Cathay Pacific also said the following in its statement emailed to Business Traveller Asia-Pacific today: “We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to coordinate with the health authorities in Hong Kong and in all the ports to which we operate flights. As required by the Hong Kong health authorities, we are now distributing health declaration forms and will be making face masks and antiseptic wipes available at the boarding gate to passengers travelling from Wuhan to Hong Kong.”

The airline added that it has in place  “Suspected Infectious Disease Procedures and Guidelines” which are based on the guidelines of the International Air Transport Association.

Separately, Taiwanese flag carrier China Airlines said in a statement today that air crews on flights operated by CAL Group, including China Airlines, Mandarin Airlines and Tigerair Taiwan, on cross-strait, Hong Kong, Macau, and “mini three links” (Songshan-Kinmen and Taichung-Kinmen) now wear face masks while on duty in response to the Wuhan outbreak and to “support government quarantine efforts”.

“These flights also carry an appropriate quantity of face masks for passengers that need them to protect the health of passengers and crew members,” the airline said.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific reported yesterday that several airlines, as well as China’s state-owned railway company, online travel agencies and hotels in China are offering refunds or free booking changes related to Wuhan, following the outbreak of the virus.

Airlines and train operators offer refunds for Wuhan-bound services amid coronavirus outbreak