TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan will quarantine all pilots of its largest carrier China Airlines for 14 days as it tries to stop an outbreak of Covid-19 among its crew, effectively grounding the airline, the health minister said on Monday (May 10).
While Taiwan has generally kept the pandemic well under control due to early prevention with only sporadic domestic cases, since last month, it has been dealing with an outbreak linked to China Airlines pilots and an airport hotel where many of them stayed.
There have been 35 confirmed infections so far in the outbreak.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters that the only way to break what they believe is a chain of transmission at the carrier is to quarantine all China Airlines pilots currently in Taiwan, and send into quarantine those who return to Taiwan.
"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," he said.
The move effectively amounted to a 14-day grounding for the airline, Mr Chen added, and the pilots will only be allowed out of quarantine once they have tested negative.
China Airlines, a major cargo carrier, said it would split the quarantining pilots into groups and try "as much as possible to maintain flight operations; it is not a total grounding." China Airlines will prioritise cargo flights, but there will be disruption even as they "go all out" to ensure they can still fly, it said.
"The short-term reduction in Taiwan's import and export capacity will affect the delivery time of goods," China Airlines said, without elaborating.
Taiwan's health authorities believe some of the pilots got infected first overseas, then spread the infection upon returning to Taiwan, and that others could have been infected by pilots from other airlines staying at the same hotel.
The government has been alarmed by the cases as some of the pilots went to bars and restaurants in northern Taiwan before their infections were confirmed, running the risk of community transmission, though no infections have been linked to that yet.
The airport hotel has since been evacuated and is undergoing a deep clean.