A COVID-19 outbreak that started in May was unrelated to the relaxation of quarantine rules for aircrew members in April, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which is headed by Chen, on April 15 allowed crew members on long-haul flights to isolate for just three days after their return. After testing negative for COVID-19, they were required to monitor their health for 11 days.
The relaxed rules, dubbed “three-plus-11,” have been criticized as many believe they led to the COVID-19 outbreak, prompting the CECC to imposed a nationwide level 3 pandemic alert from May 19 until July 27.
Photo courtesy of the Central Epidemic Command Center
Asked whether a planned resumption of quarantine-free travel between Taiwan and Palau might lead to another surge in infections, Chen on Thursday denied that the outbreak was related to the relaxed aircrew rules.
“There was no three-plus-11 loophole,” Chen said.
Cluster infections among China Airlines Ltd (中華航空) crew members and Novotel Taipei Taoyuan International Airport hotel employees did not spread to local communities, Chen said, adding that the cluster started with the infection of a China Airlines pilot who tested positive in Australia.
A version of the three-plus-11 policy without mandatory testing was in place last year, before being updated to a “seven-plus-seven” policy on Jan. 1, Chen said yesterday.
From March 12 to April 14, the center imposed a “five-plus-nine” policy, which was on April 15 updated to the three-plus-11 policy with additional measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 on planes, he said.
Since June 14, aircrew members returning from high-risk countries are required to quarantine for 14 days.
Chen said the adjustments were made according to the COVID-19 situations at the time.
A three-month investigation led by the CECC did not find a connection between the air crew cluster and the outbreak in May, he said.
Chen’s remarks were met with criticism online, with commenters urging him to take responsibility for Taiwan’s about 800 deaths due to COVID-19 since May.
In May, Chinese-language weekly magazine Mirror Media leaked a voice recording of an April 1 meeting about the the nation’s disease prevention measures in which Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Fan Yun (范雲) allegedly recommended the adoption of the three-plus-11 rule for aircrew members.
Yesterday, Fan said that she would cooperate should there be an investigation into the process that led to the relaxed rules.
Separately yesterday, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus convener Alex Fai (費鴻泰), caucus secretary-general Jessica Chen (陳玉珍) and caucus deputy secretary-general Wan Mei-ling (萬美玲) said that Chen’s refusal to acknowledge that the rule change led to the May outbreak was “beyond shameless.”
The KMT caucus said that it would take Chen to court and report him to the Control Yuan.
Additional reporting by Chen Yun and CNA
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