The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported the nation’s first domestic case of COVID-19 since April, ending 253 consecutive days of no local transmission.
It also announced three imported cases from the Philippines.
The new local case — No. 771 — is a close contact of case No. 765, a New Zealander in his 60s, who is an EVA Airways Corp (長榮航空) pilot, said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center.
The center on Sunday said that the New Zealander might have transmitted the disease to two other pilots — case No. 760, a Taiwanese pilot in her 30s, and case No. 766, a Japanese pilot in his 20s — during a flight to the US on Dec. 12, as he was reported to be coughing on duty while not wearing a mask.
The New Zealander said that he was unable to recall where he had been during his rest days from Dec. 8 to Dec. 12, but a police investigation found that case No. 771 had close contact with him during that period, so she was tested on Monday and confirmed positive yesterday, Chen said.
The New Zealander had visited Shin Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store’s Tianmu (天母) branch in Taipei between 11:30am and 12:30pm on Dec. 8, Far Eastern SOGO Department Store’s Tianmu branch between 6:30pm and 7:30pm on Dec. 10, and Costco Wholesale Store’s Nankan (南崁) branch in Taoyuan between 11am and 12pm on Dec. 11, the center said.
As the New Zealander failed to honestly report his contact and activity history, including not even mentioning having close contact with case No. 771, which is a breach of the Communicable Disease Control Act (傳染病防治法), he could be fined NT$60,000 to NT$300,000, Chen said.
EVA Air said in a statement that it would convene meetings of its investigative and disciplinary committees to ascertain whether the New Zealand pilot had breached the nation’s disease-prevention rules by circumventing and obstructing a contact tracing investigation conducted by the center.
It added that he would be fired if the allegations proved to be true.
“We fully comply with the government’s disease-prevention policy and have asked our flight and cabin crew members to strictly enforce it,” the airline said. “Employees are told to closely monitor one another and report any breaches of disease-prevention measures to management. Those contravening regulations will be penalized accordingly following an investigation.”
The center has also identified 167 close contacts of case No. 771, 13 of whom have been placed under home isolation, while the rest have been asked to practice self-health management.
All of them would undergo a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Asked if the quarantine regulations for airline crew members would be modified, Chen said that the CECC is discussing how to tighten related regulations, as the recent cases show that the self-management rules are not enough, with the conclusions to be announced today.
Separately, the CECC yesterday announced measures for Christmas and New Year’s Eve events during an online meeting with local government heads.
As the infection source of the locally transmitted COVID-19 case reported yesterday is clear, the center would not tighten current regulations on holding major events, or limit the number of participants, Chen said.
However, local governments are required to have a disease-prevention emergency response plan, based on the center’s guidelines for hosting large events, he said.
“All individuals, including the audience or performers, who are under home isolation, home quarantine, under self-health management, or have symptoms of a fever, diarrhea, loss of smell or taste, or respiratory symptoms, are prohibited from attending the events,” he said.
Event hosts are required to provide more disinfectant, prepare emergency medical response measures and measure body temperatures at venues, Chen said, adding that they are prohibited from selling tickets to indoor events without designated seating.
Participants are required to wear a mask and carry a mobile phone at all times during the event, he said, adding that they are prohibited from eating and drinking (except for water) at the events, and face a fine if they do not put on a mask after being asked to.
The three imported cases are two Filipino workers and a fisher from the Marshall Islands, who all arrived from the Philippines, provided a negative PCR test from within three days of their departure and did not have any symptoms after arriving in Taiwan, Chen said.
The two Filipinos — a man in his 40s and a woman in her 30s — arrived in Taiwan on Dec. 7, stayed in centralized quarantine facilities for 14 days, and tested positive in a mandatory test taken upon ending quarantine on Sunday, Chen said.
The fisher, who is in his 30s, arrived in Taiwan on Nov. 8, tested negative on Nov. 11 before ending centralized quarantine, and had been working on a ship from Nov. 23 until recently, Chen said.
He planned to set out to sea again on Monday, so a paid test was arranged for him on Sunday, which came back positive yesterday, Chen said, adding that 48 of his colleagues who were on the same ship as him tested negative in PCR tests, but have been placed under home isolation.
Additional reporting by Shelley Shan
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