Image Source: ABC News Australia/AAP: Mick Tsikas

QF741 from Sydney to Adelaide was turned around mid-flight after 6 Qantas baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19. 7 other flights to and from Adelaide were also affected. Qantas said the aircraft turned around because it was unable to be serviced.

ABC News Australia reports South Australia’s Chief Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier, said that about 100 people that work in the immediate area of the airport, and a “significant number” of people would be required to self-quarantine. Dr Spurrier also recommended that anyone who had travelled through the airport in the last 24 hours give their luggage a wipe over. [Interstate and overseas arrivals are required to self-isolate for 14 days in every Australian state and territory during the COVID pandemic].

Dr Spurrier told a press conference, “We haven’t been able to ascertain the original case [that infected Qantas staff] at this point in time. If you have come off a flight today or in the last 24 hours it may be worth giving your bags a wipe-over and also monitoring yourself for symptoms. We do know that the virus can survive on hard surfaces. This is a serious situation and I can’t provide very much more information at the moment because it’s actually just been reported to me, and my staff are working through that as we speak. We’ve met with Qantas and we’re looking at implementing some work-arounds to ensure that baggage can be offloaded. Qantas has done an amazing job bringing people home internationally and also continuing to carry people around Australia in domestic flights.” Dr Spurrier also said there was a “relatively small risk” to Qantas passengers.

Qantas said in a statement, “We are working to minimise any disruptions to customers who are flying in and out of Adelaide, although passenger numbers are significantly reduced due to government travel restrictions. In addition to enhanced cleaning measures introduced since the coronavirus outbreak at airports and on aircraft, we are conducting extensive cleaning of common areas used by these employees in Adelaide.”

An Adelaide Airport spokesperson told The Adelaide Advertiser, “We are … notifying other stakeholders who work within the terminal precinct, as well as informing and supporting our own staff. SA Health has advised that other areas of the terminal, including public areas, are unaffected at this time.”

The 6 baggage handlers were among the 32 new cases recorded in South Australia in 24 hours.