The source of a COVID-19 cluster infection aboard the naval supply ship Panshih (磐石) in March originated in Taiwan, not Palau, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday.
The earliest known confirmed case among the crew reported being sick on March 10, before the ship visited Palau from March 12 to 15 as part of a “Friendship Flotilla,” said Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), convener of the center’s expert advisory panel.
That meant the infection was likely brought aboard before the vessel departed Kaohsiung on March 5, Chang said.
Photo courtesy of Military News Agency via CNA
Although the CECC investigation did not find the original source of the virus, it has decided to close the case, he said.
The three ships returned to Kaoshiung’s Zuoying (左營) Naval Base on April 9, but the crew were not allowed to disembark until April 14 and 15 in accordance with quarantine requirements.
The CECC reported the first cluster infections on the Panshih on April 18, with 744 people officers, sailors and cadets on the three ships sent into quarantined that day. Thirty-six later tested positive for the virus.
The Ministry of National Defense told a news conference last night that its probe into the issue is expected to conclude this week.
Based on information at hand, navy personnel did not commit any “egregious mistakes” in their handling of infected Panshih crew, Deputy Minister of National Defense Chang Che-ping (張哲平) said.
The ministry’s Office of the Inspector General has completed interviews with 88 people and reviewed more than 3,000 articles, telegrams and other pieces of materials, said Major General Huang Kuo-ming (黃國明), who heads the office.
Rear Admiral Chen Tao-hui (陳道輝) is now being interviewed about the case, Huang said.
The investigation has been the largest in the ministry’s history, he said.
The probe into possible oversight on the part of the flotilla regarding disease prevention would be weighed against its success in completing its mission, Chang said.
It is difficult to monitor crew members’ health when sailing, but the ministry would put in place more regulations on how to handle such incidents, Chang said.
The ministry has issued disease prevention regulations for boot camp, military universities, armories and depots, military stations on mountains and garrisons on outlying islands, Medical Affairs Bureau Director-General Chen Jiann-torng (陳建同) said.
“We have also issued the same regulations to the armed forces,” he said.
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