The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced three new COVID-19 cases, three men interning on a navy vessel, and said that more than 700 navy officers and sailors would be taken to centralized quarantine facilities and tested for the novel coronavirus.
With the new cases, Taiwan has confirmed a total of 398 infections, with six fatalities.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that the three men are in their 20s and shared a sleeping compartment on the vessel.
Photo: EPA-EFE / Military News Agency
They on Feb. 21 boarded the vessel, whose 337-strong complement visited Palau from March 12 to 15, before continuing on a tour that ended when they disembarked in Kaohsiung on Wednesday, he said.
Case No. 396 began experiencing headaches and an abnormal sense of smell on Sunday last week, sought treatment on his own after arriving home on Wednesday and was reported for testing after again seeking treatment on Friday, Chen said.
Case No. 397 early this month began experiencing chest pain, headaches, a runny nose, coughing and an abnormal sense of smell, while case No. 398 on Monday began experiencing an abnormal sense of smell, Chen said, adding that they both sought treatment on their own after returning home and were reported for testing on Friday.
More than 700 navy officers and sailors who were on board three vessels making up a “Friendship Flotilla” were yesterday to be taken to seven quarantine facilities and tested, with the results expected to be announced today, Chen said.
The flotilla is an annual training exercise unit that last month visited Taiwan’s allies in the South Pacific.
People who had direct contact with the crews since they disembarked would be asked to perform self-health management for 14 days and call the 1922 hotline immediately if they experience any COVID-19 symptoms, he said.
Deputy Minister of National Defense Chang Che-ping (張哲平) said that the flotilla had followed a directive from the center that sailors are only allowed to disembark 30 days after docking in another nation.
The flotilla returned to Zuoying Military Harbor on Thursday last week, but the crews were not allowed to disembark until Wednesday — 30 days after departing from Palau, he said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the goodwill flotilla included medical officers — thoracic medicine specialists — who were required to report any crew members’ health conditions daily, he added.
“However, the reports submitted showed that all crew were healthy, so supervisory officials did not have an accurate grasp of the actual situation, resulting in three crew members becoming confirmed cases,” Chang said. “The Ministry of National Defense expresses its sincere regret.”
Navy Command Headquarters Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Mei Chia-shu (梅家樹) said that the flotilla had consulted with the embassy in Palau three days before arriving at the Pacific nation and was informed that it had not reported any cases of COVID-19, so the fleet docked on March 12.
Crew members completed quarantine procedures, filled in health declaration forms upon arrival and were asked to wear masks at all events, Mei said, adding that all had their body temperatures measured and disinfected their hands before boarding their ships.
However, when asked about a photograph posted on Facebook by the embassy showing all navy personnel without masks at a welcoming ceremony, Mei said that his office would investigate the date and location of the picture.
Chen said that as the CECC last month assisted Palau’s government with testing samples from a US healthcare worker in the country who was suspected of having contracted COVID-19, he strongly suspects that there are many potential cases in the region that have not been diagnosed.
Chen also announced that from Tuesday, people who have visited Southeast Asian countries in the 14 days prior to arriving in Taiwan would not only be required to fill out a health declaration form, but would also need to disclose if their home is suitable for undergoing 14-day home quarantine.
Those who live with older people, children aged six or younger, or people with a history of chronic illness would need to stay at a quarantine hotel for the 14 days, he said.
CECC advisory specialist panel convener Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said that while many people are worried about asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers, 1,852 healthcare workers at long-term care facilities have been tested from March 30 to Wednesday after testing criteria were expanded and none have returned a positive result.
Among the nation’s 398 confirmed cases were 22 asymptomatic carriers — including eight in their 20s and seven aged 60 and older — but most were found during contact investigations for previously confirmed cases, he said, adding that they tested negative for COVID-19 after a median of 18 days.
As testing criteria have been expanded many times and the number of suspected cases reported for testing has hit a high of more than 1,800 per day after the four-day Tomb Sweeping Day weekend, the test results suggest that community spread has not occurred in Taiwan, he added.
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