Eva Air has fired a pilot after Taiwan’s first domestic coronavirus transmission in months was reported breaking a 253-run of COVID-free days.
A contact of the pilot tested positive on Tuesday, following which the action was taken the BBC said. Overall, Taiwan has recorded only 777 infections and seven deaths.
Returned to Taiwan in December
The pilot is believed to have contracted the coronavirus earlier in December but remained asymptomatic. Pilots returning to the island after a flight are meant to remain in quarantine for three days but are not tested unless they show symptoms.
Unaware that he carried the virus, he continued to fly and was reportedly coughing on a flight to Taiwan from the US. The said pilot tested positive on December 20. The BBC report said that two days later, Taiwan discovered its first domestic infection in months. Authorities traced back that the infected woman had been in contact with the pilot.
Authorities fined the man 300,000 Taiwanese dollars ($10,600, £7,900) for failing to properly declare contacts and activities to officials.
Eva Air Responds
Eva Air said the pilot was fired for violating operational principles, including his failure to wear a mask in the cockpit.
Other than the woman, he is thought to have infected two of his colleagues, a pilot from Japan and one from Taiwan.
Neither authorities nor the airline have named the pilot but Eva Air said in a statement “the behaviour of an individual employee has undermined everyone’s efforts at epidemic prevention” and had brought “serious damage to the company’s reputation and image”.
In the wake of the new case, authorities are considering toughening the COVID-19 safety requirements for airlines.
Health authorities have traced around 170 people who had contact with the infected woman and they are either in home quarantine or being monitored for symptoms.
The shops the pilot and the woman visited have been disinfected and anyone who had also visited the store has been asked to get tested.
The company where the woman works has shut its gym, café and canteen, restricted employees from eating at their desk and banned visitors from entering its premises.
Taiwan has been one of the most successful places in the world in dealing with COVID-19, largely attributed to its early and strict border controls, a ban on foreign visitors and mandatory quarantine for all Taiwanese returning home.
The island’s 23 million people have also proactively been wearing face masks, even before they were required to do so.
Simpleflying reported that the pilot, a New Zealand national, is blamed for failing to follow government regulations after he contracted the virus during a flight to the US earlier this month. Two pilots working alongside the man have also been taken ill.
The unnamed man is also blamed for infecting two EVA Air colleagues after eschewing the wearing of a facial mask in the cockpit earlier this month. Subsequently, one Taiwanese and one Japanese pilot on duty with the man have also tested positive.
On Wednesday, Taiwan’s Minister of Health and Welfare, Chen Shih-chung, said that 170 out of 173 of the infected woman’s traced contacts had tested negative for the virus. The remaining three were still pending at the time Simpleflying’s report went online.
All international arrivals are subject to a two-week isolation period. However, pilots returning from overseas have only needed to isolate for three days. That is, up until now. With the recent incident breaking Taiwan’s streak of only imported cases, authorities are planning to tighten those rules.
Earlier, EVA Air had said it was banking on cargo and charter flights, including fly-to-nowhere services, to help it ride through the pandemic.
In the third quarter, EVA Air reported a net loss of NT$1.8 billion (US$63.9 million). Its operating revenue dropped to NT$18.4 billion (US$652.8 million), a decline of 59.6 per cent, and passenger load factor fell 28.7 per cent with just one in two seats filled.
While EVA Air’s executive vice president Liao Chi-wei does not expect passenger traffic to rebound until late 2021, its cargo division has done exceptionally well.
Prior to the pandemic, the airline only had five Boeing 777 cargo aircraft. To meet rising demand, EVA Air removed seats on 12 B777 passenger aircraft and converted them into freighters, according to the Taipei Times. Its cargo revenue has soared 91 per cent year-on-year to NT$44.1 billion (US$1.56 billion).