CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan says Palau travel bubble unaffected by rise in COVID outbreak
Update: Taiwan-Palau flights canceled until June 8 amid COVID concerns / May 14
Taipei, May 11 (CNA) A travel bubble arrangement between Taiwan and its Pacific diplomatic ally Palau will remain in place, even though the Taiwanese carrier that operates flights destined for Palau is combating a pilot shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Deputy Transportation Minister Chi Wen-jong (祈文中) said Tuesday.
The Taiwan-Palau travel bubble program officially began on April 1, allowing residents of the two countries to travel largely quarantine-free, provided they follow certain protocols, such as only traveling in groups.
China Airlines (CAL), one of Taiwan's largest carriers, which operates flights under the travel bubble program, has arranged sufficient manpower to operate the travel bubble route, Chi said.
Chi made the remarks after 13 CAL pilots were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19 over the past three weeks, leading the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to announce on Monday tightened quarantine protocols for CAL pilots and cabin crew.
The renewed protocols include that CAL pilots who are currently overseas have to be recalled back to Taiwan for 14 days of quarantine at a government-run facility.
On Tuesday, the CECC reported seven new domestic COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number in terms of locally acquired cases in Taiwan, and announced plans to tighten quarantine measures in the country.
However, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, said that the ongoing travel bubble program will not be affected by a spike in COVID-19 cases in Taiwan.
Also on Tuesday, Taiwan's Ambassador to Palau Wallace Chow (周民淦) said the Palau government has not submitted a request asking Taiwan to tighten its quarantine measures for travelers from Taiwan to the Pacific island country.
However, while CAL will operate a flight Tuesday to bring Taiwanese travelers currently in Palau home, it will cancel Palau-bound flights scheduled for May 15 and May 19 due to CAL's rescheduling of its pilot assignments, Chou said.
It is still uncertain whether CAL will operate a flight scheduled for May 22, Chou added.
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