CORONAVIRUS/CECC focuses on foreign pilots as source of airport hotel COVID-19 cases
Taipei, April 30 (CNA) The search for the source of COVID-19 infections found at the Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport hotel is now focused on pilots of foreign carriers who stayed there, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said Friday.
Four employees at the hotel, which is partly used by Taiwan-based China Airlines and other carriers for their crew members, have been confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 as of Friday, but how they became infected remains unclear.
During a press briefing by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), the health minister said the current theory is that the hotel employees contracted the virus left by a pilot or pilots of foreign carriers when cleaning their rooms after they checked out.
As a result, Chen announced that the airport hotel, which has two buildings -- one for regular guests and the other for flight crew members -- will not take crew members of foreign carriers after it reopens.
He said two hotels in Taoyuan have been designated as quarantine hotels for crew members of foreign airlines.
Under current regulations, all flight crew of Taiwan carriers have to quarantine for three days after returning from assignments and are tested for COVID-19 when they finish quarantine.
Most other arrivals in Taiwan only have to quarantine for 14 days.
Crew members of foreign carriers have to stay in the quarantine hotel during their stopover, but no tests are required at any time, opening a potential COVID-19 prevention loophole.
When asked if the CECC will now begin testing crew members of foreign carriers, Chen said the CECC is unable to make testing compulsory for foreign crew members, without explaining why.
The CECC urged people who visited or stayed at the Novotel airport hotel between April 15 and 28 to monitor their health for 14 days after their last stay there, and wear a surgical mask and get a COVID-19 test if they develop symptoms, such as a fever, diarrhea or respiratory problems.
Following the first confirmed case of an employee at the hotel on Thursday, the health authorities moved roughly 400 staff members and hotel guests to government quarantine centers, where they were tested for COVID-19.
Among them, three more hotel employees have tested positive for the coronavirus on Friday. The CECC said it will conduct contact tracing among flight crew members who stayed there and they may be asked to return to quarantine.
In addition, the CECC has asked local governments to complete an inspection of all quarantine hotels by May 17, following the infections found at the airport hotel.
CECC official Lo Yi-chun (羅一鈞) said genome sequencing on the viruses found in the new cases will help clarify whether the infections among the airport hotel employees are related to those seen among several China Airlines pilots and family members.
Genome sequencing results of seven cases have come back, and they showed that six pilots and one of the family members were all infected with a variant of the virus first found in the United Kingdom that has since spread globally, Lo said.
The Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport is located in the China Airlines complex that comprises the carrier's headquarters and training facilities.
Since April 20, 10 pilots of the carrier have tested positive for COVID-19, including one in Australia, and the CECC has yet to determine the sources of their infections.
Five family members of China Airlines pilots have also been confirmed as COVID-19 patients, and they have been classified as domestic cases, the first ones in over 70 days. To date, Taiwan has reported 1,128 COVID-19 cases since the outbreak began in early 2020, including three domestic and four imported cases confirmed on Friday. Of the total, 12 have died, while 63 are isolated for treatment in the hospital.
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