CORONAVIRUS/China Airlines, Novotel fined for quarantine management issues

05/07/2021 09:35 PM
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Soldiers are deployed to disinfect China Airlines headquarters in Taoyuan. CNA photo May 2, 2021
Soldiers are deployed to disinfect China Airlines headquarters in Taoyuan. CNA photo May 2, 2021

Taipei, May 7 (CNA) Taiwanese carrier China Airlines (CAL) will be fined NT$1 million (US$35,800) by the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) for failing to manage a dormitory for flight crew members in home quarantine, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Friday.

The CAA will impose the fine for violating the Civil Aviation Act and Aircraft Flight Operation Regulations for its failure to carry out quarantine and health management measures related to its flight crews, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, said at a press briefing.

Chen did not specifically say for what shortcomings CAL was fined nor did he directly link the recent COVID-19 cases that have occurred among the airline's personnel or among employees at the Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport hotel to the CAL dormitory.

The CAL dormitory was on the seventh and eighth floors of one of the two Novotel buildings, the one used to provide accommodation and dining services to the general public, Chen said.

The fine was set at a meeting the previous day at which the responsibility of the carrier and the hotel -- part of the CAL headquarters complex close to Taoyuan International Airport -- for the many cases was discussed, Chen said.

Over the past two weeks, 11 CAL pilots, eight relatives of CAL pilots, a CAL flight attendant, six Novotel employees, and three of their family members have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the CECC.

The cases of the Novotel employees, their family members, and the pilots' relatives are considered to have been transmitted domestically, though the exact source of the employees' infection has yet to be pinpointed.

The infections of the pilots, however, have not yet been classified by the CECC as either domestic or imported.

On Wednesday, the CECC said that based on genome sequencing results, it had determined that the virus in some of the CAL cases had the same genome sequence as that of the virus found in many of the Novotel cases.

It admitted, however, that it still did not know the source of the infection and how the virus had spread among the patients.

The Novotel airport hotel consists of two buildings, one of which was designated by the Taoyuan City government as a quarantine hotel in October 2020.

In the other building, the dormitory, which has been the CAL's standard dormitory for flight crews since before the epidemic began, continued to be used as such during the outbreak.

Chen said because the dormitory was not registered with Taoyuan as a certified quarantine unit but still used by CAL flight crews required to be in quarantine without the city's approval, Taoyuan could fine the hotel NT$15,000 for violating the Communicable Disease Control Act.

Also, because some regular hotel guests were given rooms on the eighth floor where CAL flight crews were in mandatory home quarantine, the Novotel could also face fines by the Tourism Bureau, Chen said.

On Thursday, the Tourism Bureau fined Novotel NT$150,000 for mixing general hotel guests and CAL flight crews in quarantine on the same floor, calling it a threat to public health.

Meanwhile, Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) said Friday that the city government has written a ticket of NT$15,000 to Novatel for not applying to have its other building designated as a quarantine unit.

As for why the city did not take action earlier on the CAL dormitory if it was not complying with quarantine rules, Yang Sheng-ping (楊勝評), head of the Taoyuan Department of Tourism, said Novotel expressed interest in early March to have the building with the CAL dormitory certified as a quarantine unit.

The city rejected the hotel's request because of management difficulties, Yang said, adding that no CAL flight crews were found to be staying in the building at that time when the city inspected the building.

The city then continued to issue travel subsidies for general guests of the hotel because it thought that the mixing of CAL flight crews in quarantine and general hotel guests on one floor would not happen.

Also, it is the central government's authority to manage CAL dormitories, Yang said, and the CAA had ordered the carrier to make sure the dormitory was well managed.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan, Chiang Hui-chun and Elizabeth Hsu)

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