About 300 members of the Pilots Union Taoyuan and their families yesterday rallied outside the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) in Taipei to protest against not being allowed to take COVID-19 rapid tests instead of undergoing home quarantine.
The CECC on April 27 announced a shortened quarantine period for Taiwan-based airline crew members. The new policy applies to crew members who have received a booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at least 14 days prior and requires them to undergo four days of quarantine followed by four days of self-health management for those returning from long-haul flights, and five days of self-health management for those returning from short-haul flights.
Crew members who have not received a booster dose must quarantine at home for five days and practice self-health monitoring for the following nine days if returning from a long-haul flight. The self-health monitoring period drops to seven days for those returning from short-haul flights.
The union yesterday said crew members should be allowed to take rapid tests instead of quarantining at home, as has been done in some industries.
It also demanded that the differential treatment based on vaccination status be abolished.
It said the CECC’s “advance preparation” for the pandemic was actually “falling behind” in three aspects: slow recognition of COVID-19 vaccines received in other countries, acting slow in removing a special mark denoting occupation in the National Health Insurance (NHI) system and dragging its feet on approving saliva-based test kits.
Union chairwoman Lee Hsin-yen (李信燕) said that when the national COVID-19 vaccination program was launched last year, airline crew members were not listed in the priority groups, so many of them received vaccines in other countries, but their vaccination status was not recognized by the CECC, until it finally agreed to approve it on a case-by-case basis after the union pressed for recognition.
Crew members have been living in a cycle of flying and quarantining over the past two years, and as their NHI cards mark them as people with a special occupation, they hardly have any chance to visit a clinic or hospital, as they are frequently under quarantine or practicing self-health management.
“Among about 3,000 crew members in the two Taiwan-based airlines, three died last year, and many others experienced treatment delays because they could not receive follow-up treatment,” she said.
Lee said the union in December last year recommended that the CECC to import saliva-based testing kits to replace the uncomfortable nose swabs.
Crew members even volunteered to be test subjects, but the center refused the offer at the time, only to approve saliva-based test kits after the latest local outbreak began last month, she said.
The union urges the CECC to consider the physical and mental health of airline crew members, and allow them to use COVID-19 rapid tests to replace home quarantine, so they can return to flying normal shifts, Lee said.
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