Airline personnel should be held to stricter quarantine measures given recent cases of COVID-19 linked to Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, experts said.
As of yesterday, four employees at Novotel, which is used by China Airlines and other carriers as a quarantine hotel for their crew, had been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, but how they became infected remains unclear.
The hotel is in a China Airlines complex that comprises the carrier’s headquarters and training facilities.
Since April 20, 10 of the airline’s pilots have tested positive for COVID-19, including one in Australia, and the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has yet to determine the sources of their infections.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, on Friday said that hotel employees might have contracted the virus from a pilot or pilots of foreign carriers while cleaning their rooms after they checked out.
Hwang Kao-pin (黃高彬), deputy director of China Medical University Hospital’s infection control center, said it was likely that the infections at the hotel originated from returning flight crew.
The government has given in to pressure from flight crews to shorten quarantines from five days to three, despite that the pandemic is still a danger outside of Taiwan, Hwang said.
The government should reinstate its policy of five days of isolation and 11 days of self-health management for pilots and airline crew, he said.
“It is not in Taiwan’s best interests to be flexible” in its quarantine measures, he added.
Quarantine establishments designated for flight crew and pilots should also take special precautions, such as adopting unidirectional mopping when cleaning floors, and avoiding touching surfaces when inspecting the cleanliness and sanitation of the rooms, he said.
A senior housekeeping employee at the hotel (identified as case No. 1,120) had visited a local clinic three times without being flagged as potentially infected, said Shih Shin-ru (施信如), director of Chang Gung University’s Research Center for Emerging Viral Infections.
She urged local clinics to be on heightened alert and send more samples to hospitals for examination.
Clinics should forward all samples from people with symptoms that are even vaguely cold-like to prevent the possibility of a communal cluster infection, she said.
National Taiwan University Children’s Hospital dean Huang Li-min (黃立民) said that the chain of infection at the hotel could have started as early as two months ago and it could be nearly impossible to trace a source of infection.
The central air conditioning systems used by hotels makes it hard to eradicate COVID-19, he said, adding that quarantine hotels such as Novotel should model their air exchange rate after hospitals and draw air from the outside six times per hour.
Additional reporting by CNA
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