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Homeland Security

MND finds flawed COVID-19 prevention measures on Navy ship

ROC Central News Agency

06/12/2020 10:54 PM

Taipei, June 12 (CNA) Several health procedures on board a Navy ship that was plagued by COVID-19 cases after it returned to Taiwan from a goodwill mission to Palau in April were flawed, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said Friday.

After the Navy's Panshi fast combat support ship returned to Taiwan in mid-April following more than a month at sea, 36 of the military personnel and cadets on board eventually ended up infected with the virus.

Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has concluded that people on the ship were already infected when it left Taiwan on March 5 as part of a three-ship "Fleet of Friendship" that visited Palau from March 12-15 and returned to Taiwan on April 9.

The people on board the Panshi could not leave the ship until April 14 to fulfill quarantine rules, and the collective health tests carried out by the Navy on that day were ill-prepared and poorly executed, according to a post-investigation report.

Maj. Gen. Huang Kuo-ming (黃國明), who heads the ministry's Office of the Inspector General, said in the report that protocols were not strictly followed on April 14.

When medical officers boarded the ship that day to carry out the tests, they did not properly check the health declarations of their sailors, except to ask them if they felt unwell.

Some sailors even lied about not having had a fever at some point in the trip for fear of having to be quarantined, which would have cost them their leave after returning to Taiwan, Huang said.

The military also said the flawed testing was "the main factor behind the cluster infection," but did not offer any explanation linking the poor tests to the outbreak that became apparent just four days later.

By April 18, 22 sailors on the Panshi were confirmed to have COVID-19, and considering the incubation period of the disease, it is unlikely that even rigorous tests on April 14 could have prevented those cases.

By April 20, 24 sailors were confirmed cases and three others were found to already have antibodies, indicating that the infection had begun to spread early in the mission.

On Friday, the MND said the CDC will take over screening procedures for all returning sailors after future trips abroad.

Other problems, according to the MND, including failing to screen sailors for a loss in their sense of taste or smell, which are telltale signs of COVID-19, and the use of an outdated health declaration form.

The Naval Fleet Command did not use an updated version of the form issued across the board by the Centers for Disease Control on April 6 that included the sense of smell and taste as part of screening measures, the ministry said.

The MND did not elaborate on whether the Panshi had access to the form or what it would have meant to the ship's disease prevention procedures.

Also, the Navy did not anticipate how it would handle the quarantine period until March 31 when it asked the CDC for advice, Huang said.

After the cluster infection was confirmed, Rear Admiral Chen Tao-hui (陳道輝), former head of the Republic of China Navy's Friendship Fleet, and Vice Admiral Kao Chia-pin (高嘉濱), commander of ROC Naval Fleet Command, were both removed from their post on April 22 pending an investigation to the case.

On Friday, the MND announced that both officers will be able to return to their posts from June 16, but each were given two minor demerits for their oversights in handling the case.

Meanwhile, Navy Commander Admiral Liu Chih-pin (劉志斌) also received that day a major demerit for his lack of supervision over the matter.

(By Chen Yun-yu and Ko Lin)

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