Taiwan health authorities have announced that they will quarantine all pilots for China Airlines, the country’s largest airline for 14 days as it tries to stop an outbreak of COVID-19, impacting a lifeline for the island's trade-dependent economy.
Taiwan had kept the Covid-19 pandemic under control due to early prevention, efficient contract tracing and medical follow-up with only sporadic domestic cases, but since the middle of April, it has been dealing with an outbreak linked to China Airlines pilots and an airport hotel where many of them stayed. To date, there have been 35 confirmed infections so far in the outbreak.
Taiwan’s Health Minister, Chen Shih-chung, told local media that the government had decided that the only way to break the chain of transmission associated with China Airlines, was to quarantine all China Airlines pilots currently in Taiwan and any who return.
Minister Chen said, "This will have a big impact on China Airlines, on its passenger and freighter flights, and for the crew, too. But for the safety of the whole community we cannot but make this decision."
Chen added that the airline pilots will only be allowed out of quarantine once they have tested negative for the Covid-19 virus.
In response, China Airlines said that it would cooperate with the government and planned to split the quarantining pilots into groups and try "as much as possible to maintain flight operations; it is not a total grounding."
The airline said that its plans will prioritize cargo flights, but there will be disruption even as they "go all out" to ensure they can still fly and that "The short-term reduction in Taiwan's import and export capacity will affect the delivery time of goods."
Taiwan's health authorities believe that there are several ways that China Airlines got infected with the Covid-19 virus. They believe that some of the pilots got infected overseas, and then spread the infection upon returning to Taiwan. They also are trying to check through contract tracing, whether pilots from other airlines, staying at the same hotel, infected other China Airline pilots.