The Ministry of National Defense yesterday said that it would form a special committee to investigate a cluster of COVID-19 cases among navy personnel who returned from a goodwill mission in the Pacific.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Saturday reported three new COVID-19 cases, who were all naval cadets on board three vessels making up a “Friendship Flotilla.”
The CECC yesterday reported 22 new COVID-19 cases, 21 of which involved people who traveled on the flotilla and disembarked at Zuoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung on Wednesday.
Photo: Chieh Jung-fong, Taipei Times
The flotilla visited Palau from March 12 to 15 and returned to the Port of Kaohsiung on April 9.
As cadets from the military’s political warfare academy — the National Defense University’s Fu Hsing Kang College in Taipei — were traveling with the fleet, the school would be thoroughly disinfected and classes would be suspended for two weeks, a military official, who declined to be named, said yesterday.
Kaohsiung’s Department of Health and Environmental Protection Bureau said that they have disinfected areas close to the naval base, especially bus stops and train stations.
Meanwhile, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) issued a three-point statement in response to the incident, Presidential Office spokesman Xavier Chang (張惇涵) said.
First, disease prevention is a battle, and the military — which shoulders the responsibility of protecting the nation and its people — should have exercised the highest caution, Tsai said in the statement.
Besides being held accountable and apologizing to society, the military must learn from the experience and reflect deeply on disease-prevention management, she said.
Second, the military should cooperate fully with the CECC, while the ministry’s committee should leave no stone unturned in the investigation, which concerns the nation’s control of the pandemic, as well as society’s trust in the military, she added.
Third, all military personnel involved must adhere strictly to the CECC’s directives, such as quarantine and health management, she said, calling on the military and the healthcare system to spare no effort in taking care of those infected.
Separately, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Johnny Chiang (江啟臣) said the infections are a national security problem.
Given the lessons of similar outbreaks in the US and French navies and on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the Ministry of National Defense’s attitude was “too relaxed,” he said.
The military should have known from these incidents that an outbreak on a ship was possible and the potential impact, he said.
The military’s image would be severely damaged if poor management leads to a community outbreak, he said, adding that the navy should clarify whether it intentionally concealed the cases.
Additional reporting by Aaron Tu, Lin Liang-sheng and Fang Chih-hsien
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