Tourism official demoted amid COVID-19 controversy

03/30/2020 08:52 PM
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Image taken from taiwan.net.tw
Image taken from taiwan.net.tw

Taipei, March 30 (CNA) A high-ranking official at Taiwan's Tourism Bureau was demoted Monday for official misconduct that led to one of his colleagues becoming infected with the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The official was removed from his position and will be transferred to a lower position pending an investigation into the case, the bureau said in a statement.

According to the bureau, the official asked a Tourism Bureau staffer working at a Taoyuan International Airport visitor information center to meet and tend to his son, who was returning from the Philippines on March 20, while the son was waiting to be picked up by the official.

Both the son, who is in his 20s, and the airport staffer were confirmed to have contracted the virus on March 28, and have been identified by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) as case No. 277 and No. 269, respectively.

Since the airport staffer had no recent travel history, it was highly likely that he was infected by the official's son because the two had coffee together at the airport, the CECC said.

Even worse, the five-year-old son of the airport staffer was confirmed as having the disease Monday, resulting in the suspension of his kindergarten for 14 days and home isolation for 17 people the five-year-old came in contact with, the CECC said.

The bureau found that the airport staffer met the official's son in the control area as soon as the son got off the plane and accompanied him to the arrival lounge, which did not follow the bureau's standard operating procedures, the bureau said.

The fact that the two lingered at the airport to wait for the official was inappropriate as that increased the risk of infecting other people, a violation of disease control measures, according to the bureau.

It also determined that the official, who has not developed COVID-19 symptoms, drove to the airport to pick up his son during work hours after notifying his supervisor verbally that he was heading out of the office rather than taking formal leave, a violation of Tourism Bureau rules.

The relationship between the official and the airport staffer was not immediately clear, with some local media saying the high-ranking official directed the staffer to help as a subordinate and others saying the two were friends.

In an interview with Apple Daily, the official described the airport staffer as a colleague he has known for a long time who also knows his son and said he simply asked his colleague as a friend to check on his son.

The incident also raised concerns as the official, despite learning that his son developed symptoms on March 22, still attended a meeting with other officials such as Transportation Minister Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) and Deputy Minister Wang Kwo-tsai (王國材).

But Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who also heads the CECC, said there are no plans to test the official as he has not developed related symptoms and started home isolation after his son tested positive.

The Transportation Ministry said it has been checking the official's itinerary over the past week to see if the official could have possibly infected others.

(By Wang Shu-fen and Lee Hsin-Yin)

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