MND defends naval mission that led to Covid-19 infections
Deputy Defence Minister Chang Che-ping has defended the navy's decision to carry out its “Fleet of Friendship” mission, despite 24 naval personnel having now tested positive for the coronavirus following their return to Taiwan.
All 24 naval personnel who have been infected with the virus were serving on board the Panshih fast combat support Ship, which along with the guided-missile frigate, Yueh Fei, and that Lafayette class frigate Kang Ding, sailed to Palau in March as part of the Navy's three-ship Fleet of Friendship mission.
Seven-hundred other naval personnel serving on the two other ships have also been quarantined.
According to Chang, the Fleet of Friendship mission is an important annual naval exercise that combines theory and practice and gives personnel hands-on experience of operating at sea for a prolonged period of time.
Chang says the decision to go ahead with this year's Fleet of Friendship mission was based on an assessment by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC). The deputy defence minister says health officials have yet to confirm where or how the naval personnel were infected.
The deputy minister’s statements follow an apology made by navy Deputy Commander Mei Jia-shu at a CECC briefing where he said the incident would not affect the navy's combat readiness.
Mei was defending the navy’s decision to carry out the Fleet of Friendship mission despite the global coronavirus outbreak, saying that the decision to go ahead with the annual mission was made after consulting with Taiwan's embassy in Palau.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung says health officials are still investigating how the naval personnel were infected.
According to the defence ministry, it will form a task force and thoroughly investigate the case, and any personnel deemed to be responsible for lapses that resulted in the infections will be punished.
In related news businesses visited by possibly infected naval personnel are shutting down this afternoon.
Kaohsiung health officials say 14 more establishments will be closed at 14:00, and disinfection work there will last through midnight.
These include classrooms, barbershops, restaurants, hotels and motels, and shopping centres.