The sorry saga of three Cathay Pacific pilots who tested positive for Covid-19 is a cautionary tale that highlights both the reality and absurdity of life in a city with anti-virus measures among the strictest in the world. Cathay’s three freight pilots appear to have caught the highly transmissible Delta variant while staying at a hotel in Frankfurt on a layover. Germany is experiencing a sharp spike in Covid-19 case numbers. By the time they tested positive, the pilots had returned to Hong Kong and been out in the community. This is a source of controversy. Pilots are among the few still exempted from the city’s rigorous quarantine requirements for travellers. The exemption is needed to ensure the smooth operation of air services including the supply of goods. The positive tests sparked a dramatic chain of events that disrupted the lives of hundreds of people . Compulsory testing orders were issued for those who had been at a long list of locations visited by the pilots at certain times. But testing negative was not enough to prevent their many close – or even not so close – contacts from being locked up in government quarantine facilities at Penny’s Bay. A close friend of my family and a colleague were among them. At least 120 children, some as young as four, were taken into quarantine. The wife of one of the pilots worked at their school. All Cathay aircrew who stayed in Frankfurt this month were also ordered into quarantine and more than a hundred have now been released . The drastic measures were driven by a desire to keep Hong Kong free of the Delta variant and to avoid a community outbreak that might scupper plans to open the border with the mainland. Whether or not all these quarantine orders were necessary is open to question. So far, no one connected to the pilots has tested positive. But this was not the end of the story. This week, Cathay revealed the three pilots had been fired for a “serious breach” of the rules concerning overseas layovers. The nature of the breach has not been revealed. But the pilots admitted leaving their hotel in Germany to meet each other or a friend having earlier claimed to have stayed inside, according to the Department of Health. We have not heard the pilots’ side of the story. But if they broke rules and contracted the virus as a result, they should be ashamed. The pilots will pay a heavy price. They have already lost their job. There may be more serious consequences. Officials are investigating whether they broke the law. Anyone convicted of deliberately misleading officials in such circumstances can be fined a maximum of HK$10,000 and given a jail term of up to six months. Perhaps the biggest penalty for the pilots will be explaining their actions to friends, family and colleagues who found themselves hauled into quarantine as a result of them testing positive. It is to be hoped this is an isolated case. Cathay pilots now face tighter measures . They must stay at home for three days after a trip, only going out for essentials. They will be repeatedly tested and subject to closer scrutiny. There is a need for calm and common sense. It is disturbing to read that some pilots have been abused by fellow residents who see their quarantine exemption as a threat to public health. Pilots are an easy target. They are generally well-paid and their job has a certain glamour. Many are from overseas. But their role, ever more stressful amid tightened measures, is essential if Hong Kong is to remain connected to the outside world during the pandemic. We do not want to drive pilots away from the city. The lesson to be learned from the Cathay saga is that the rules to counter Covid-19 must be observed. Many of them seem illogical and over the top as the city has not had a community transmission of the virus for months. But a breach of the rules, in the current risk-averse environment, can have very serious and far-reaching consequences.