CECC opts to keep foreign carrier pilots on layovers away from others
Taipei, May 3 (CNA) Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Monday it intends to designate one hotel as the only place to accommodate flight crew members of foreign carriers during layovers to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in the future.
Though the CECC did not explain why the decision was made, it suspects that a recent COVID-19 cluster at an airport hotel resulted from hotel housekeepers catching the virus of a pilot or pilots of foreign carriers when cleaning their rooms after they checked out.
The plan was discussed at a meeting convened by the CECC earlier Monday to improve epidemic control measures involving flight crew members.
Those in attendance concluded that flight crew members of foreign carriers should be separated from others required to be in mandatory home quarantine, CECC deputy chief Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) said at a CECC press briefing later Monday.
They agreed in principle that the crews should be accommodated at one single quarantine hotel, Chen said, adding that the Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) will work with local governments in planning accommodation for them.
If carried out, the arrangement would be a change from current procedures, under which flight crew accommodation is arranged by their employers.
This issue has arisen because of recent cluster infections involving a local airline and the airport hotel near Taoyuan International Airport, Taiwan's major gateway.
Ten pilots of Taiwanese carrier China Airlines (CAL) and eight relatives of some of those infected CAL pilots and other CAL pilots who have tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies have been confirmed with the disease since April 20.
Another four employees of the Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport hotel, three of their family members, and a contractor hired by the hotel have been confirmed with COVID-19 since April 29.
The CECC has not been able to pinpoint the source of the Novotel cluster, but said last week it is looking at pilots of foreign carriers who stayed at the hotel, which is also used by CAL for some of its crew members.
On Monday, Chen did not say whether the new plan to isolate crews of foreign carriers was based on that suspicion.
In terms of accommodation for the flight crews of domestic carriers, Chen said that issue would be dealt with by the CAA.
For now, the Novotel airport hotel will continue to provide accommodation for crews of local airlines, with approval from Taoyuan City authorities once it reopens after being shut down on April 29 to be disinfected, Chen said.
If local carriers want access to special quarantine dormitories, their application will be reviewed jointly by the CAA and Taoyuan City authorities, he said.
There previously had been some concern of a potential COVID-19 prevention loophole because of the different handling of crews of domestic and foreign carriers.
Crew members of Taiwanese airlines have to be in quarantine for three days after returning from assignments and are tested for COVID-19 at the end of that period.
Crew members of foreign carriers, on the other hand, have to stay in a quarantine hotel during their stopover, but do not have to be tested, meaning there was no way to know if they had the disease and may have put others at risk.
Meanwhile, officials from the CAA, Taoyuan International Airport Co., Taoyuan, and the Aviation Police Bureau checked the airport and three quarantine hotels in Taoyuan to see how their epidemic control and prevention measures were being carried out.
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