Taiwan navy ship outbreak may threaten success against virus

TAIPEI • A coronavirus outbreak on one of Taiwan’s navy ships has raised concerns that a re-infection could threaten one of the world’s success stories in the fight against the pandemic.

Twenty-eight sailors on a navy supply ship were confirmed to have the virus shortly after it returned from a visit to Palau earlier this month. Taiwan’s defence minister apologised on Tuesday night and said he was willing to resign if requested to do so by the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen.

Tsai apologised at a briefing yesterday, saying Taiwan is investigating the outbreak on the navy ship, and the president should take responsibility. She said the navy ship was on an annual routine drill and “special” mission, which she didn’t specify, and only visited Palau.

The apologies come amid growing concern the military mishandled the outbreak after 744 personnel from three ships that visited the Pacific island nation were allowed to disembark after arriving back in Taiwan on April 9. Health officials first reported infections from the ship last week.

The incident could blemish what has otherwise been a success story in containing the virus, which has infected more than 2.5 million people worldwide. Taiwan has managed to keep its outbreak largely under control, with businesses and schools remaining open and the number of confirmed infections totalling just 426 (at press time).

Chan Chang-chuan, dean of the College of Public Health at National Taiwan University said Taiwan’s prowess at locating suspected cases quickly using mobile phones and other technology pointed to it being able to limit the spread in the broader community.

Still, “it’s concerning that it could trigger a second wave on infections in Taiwan,” he said. “So, we urge the government to test as many suspected cases as possible.”

Health officials confirmed a 28th infection from the naval vessel yesterday, a student who had previously tested negative for the virus.

Grant Newsham, a retired US Marine officer and senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, warned that Taiwan’s leadership shouldn’t overreact to the outbreak. — Bloomberg