Taipei, The earliest cases of a recent cluster infection of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) aboard a Taiwan naval ship happened after the sailors left Taiwan, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Monday.
As of Monday, 24 of 744 military personnel returning from a goodwill mission to Taiwan’s diplomatic ally Palau had been confirmed as having COVID-19, the first cases of the disease to hit Taiwan’s military.
Another three who tested negative for COVID-19 and were not included in the 24 confirmed cases tested positive for antibodies related to the disease, indicating they had it at one point and were likely the first on the ship to get it.
Medical records also show that the three reported to the ship’s medical room with fevers on March 21, 23, and 26, respectively, which would indicate they were infected after boarding the ship in Taiwan on Feb. 21, said CECC advisor Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) at a daily press briefing.
It was unclear, however, if they were allowed to leave the ship at all while it remained docked and expose themselves to a possible infection before setting sail in early March.
The three were aboard the Panshi fast combat support ship that was part of a three-ship flotilla consisting of 744 people that visited Palau from March 12 to 15, and returned to the naval base in the port of Zuoying in Kaohsiung on April 9.
Those on board had to remain on the ships until they disembarked on April 14 and 15 to comply with CECC quarantine requirements that only passengers on ships that have not docked at a foreign port for at least 30 days can leave the ship.
All 24 confirmed cases, which were identified on April 17 or 18 after the people on board returned home, also occurred on the Panshi support ship.
Two others on the ship were recorded as having fevers on March 6 and April 1, but they tested negative for COVID-19 and did not have any related antibodies, Chang said.
The cluster infection immediately raised questions of where it originated because Palau has no confirmed COVID-19 cases, and it was the flotilla’s only port of call during the month-long trip. The dates of the earliest cases shed little light on the mystery.
CECC chief, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), said on Saturday he suspected that the 24 confirmed cases contracted the virus during their time in Palau.
But he retracted that statement Sunday, and noted instead that health authorities were still conducting an investigation to determine if the 24 contracted the virus locally or overseas.
Meanwhile, Palau Health Minister Emais Roberts said there was little chance the infection came from Palau because more than a month has passed since the visit and no one in the country has tested positive or shown related symptoms, according to a Reuters report Monday.
Taiwan currently has a total of 422 COVID-19 infections, of which 343 have been classified as imported, 55 believed to be local infections, and the 24 from the Panshi are still under investigation to be determined if the source of infection was imported or domestic, according to the CECC.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel