The latest news will raise concerns about the safety of flight with crews who are not required to close for 14 days after traveling abroad and if that amounts to a hole in Australia’s pandemic defenses.
The flight from Santiago landed in Sydney on March 29.
Passengers were quarantined for 14 days in city hotels, but the crew was free to return home under an airline crew exemption granted by the Australian Senior Protection Committee of health.
The committee includes all chief medical officers of state and territory and is chaired by the Australian chief medical officer.
A Qantas spokesperson said the four were among the 50 Qantas and Jetstar employees who tested positive for Covid-19. The company released the issue on Friday.
“Under federal government regulations, they are exempt from quarantine until they are diagnosed. It’s the same as a doctor or a nurse. They can continue their work and visit the supermarkets unless they get sick, “he said.
He also pointed out that the airline was under pressure to do more repatriation flights to bring Australians back from cruises and regions of the world that had much higher levels of coronavirus infections.
Qantas medical director, Dr. Ian Hosegood, said the airline complies with all requirements issued by the Australian Principal Health Protection Committee.
“Crew returning home must also comply with the social isolation requirements currently applied in the state or territory in which they live, like any other member of the public.”
Qantas staff were alarmed by the lack of personal protective equipment provided by the airline as the coronavirus unfolded. They now wear masks and gloves during cabin tasks.
It was not the only flight in which the crew was infected. NSW Health has published long lists of flights on which passengers with the virus have traveled, listing nearby rows.
A number of them were flights that carried passengers from the Ruby Princess to other states. Over 600 passengers from the cruise ship have now descended with Covid-19 and several have died.
Qantas insiders said that some of the Qantas cases were associated with these Ruby Princess flights.
It occurs as Qantas and Virgin Australia prepare to resume international services with government-subsidized flights to London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland to bring stranded Australians home.
A government-sponsored repatriation flight is expected to leave Peru later this week.