CORONAVIRUS/Chemical soldiers: Taiwan's unsung protectors in fight against COVID

06/01/2021 09:03 PM
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CNA photo June 1, 2021
CNA photo June 1, 2021

Taipei, June 1 (CNA) The soldiers in the Army's 33rd Chemical Group wake up before dawn each day, check their gear, and set off for COVID-19 testing stations, public markets, subway stations, airports, COVID-19 hotspots, and other high-risk locations in the country, to carry out disinfection work.

Wearing full protective suits and carrying up to 18 kilograms of equipment, they respond to all requests by health authorities and local governments for disinfection crews.

"I'm constantly dripping sweat inside my protective suit, even if I'm disinfecting a space inside an air-conditioned building," Chung Shih-yi (鍾時屹), a second lieutenant and platoon leader in the unit, told CNA in an interview Monday.

The soldiers disinfect themselves after a mission. CNA photo June 1, 2021
The soldiers disinfect themselves after a mission. CNA photo June 1, 2021

The soldiers in the unit are used to working in such conditions, however, because their training includes heat tolerance, Chung said.

Personal discomfort is hardly a worry for the men and women of the 33rd Chemical Group of the 6th Army Command, which is based in Taoyuan and headed by Commander Kung Lung-feng (龔龍峰).

Speaking with CNA Tuesday, Kung said the soldiers in his unit are not permitted regular leave at this time, and they have been going home only once per week since the domestic COVID-19 outbreak began on May 10.

They understand that this is the time for them to prove the value of their work, he said in a phone interview with CNA.

Commander Kung Lung-feng (front). Photo courtesy of Military News Agency
Commander Kung Lung-feng (front). Photo courtesy of Military News Agency

Kung said he has not been home once to his family since May 10, because he does not want to take leave while his soldiers are giving their all, rushing from one location to another to disinfect streets and buildings.

"I'm so sorry I have not been able to see my family for weeks, but I cannot leave my soldiers who are working to contain the COVID-19 outbreak and protect the health of our people," Kung said.

During that time, Kung said, he missed his son's Anti-Drooling Ceremony, a Taiwanese tradition that is observed when a baby turns four months old. Because of the nature of his work, Kung said, he was not there either when the child was born earlier in the year.

"At first, my wife was upset because I was missing so many important family events, but she has gradually come to understand the nature of my work, as she has been watching the news on television," Kung said in a choked voice.

CNA photo June 1, 2021
CNA photo June 1, 2021

Kung said he has explained to his wife that he cannot take leave at this time, because he has to ensure the safety of his unit, for example, by making sure that the soldiers wear their protective suits correctly and disinfect their military vehicles properly to minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19.

"I will remain with my unit and continue to prioritize country over family until this COVID-19 outbreak is brought under control," he said.

(By Matt Yu, Wang Teng-yi and Emerson Lim)

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