Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications has fined local airline EVA Air more than US$35,000 after a foreign pilot was blamed for causing the island territory’s first locally transmitted case of COVID-19 since April. In a statement, the ministry blamed EVA Air for failing to enforce anti-epidemic control measures such as the mandatory wearing of face masks by pilots in the flight deck.
EVA Air sacked the New Zealand pilot on Wednesday as he continues to recover in a negative isolation ward in a Taipei hospital. Case 765 as the pilot is known is believed to have failed to self-isolate after returning from a long-haul flight where he likely became infected.
During this time, the pilot met a Taiwanese friend who he infected with COVID-19. The locally transmitted infection breaks a 250-day streak of zero locally transmitted cases of the novel Coronavirus.
Health officials claim the pilot misled contact tracers as they desperately tried to track down any other contacts he may have infected. It’s believed the pilot may have lied about his movements in an attempt to cover up for the fact that he didn’t abide by self-isolation rules.
When EVA Air started an internal investigation, they then discovered that the pilot hadn’t worn a face mask for parts of the flight in contravention of airline rules. A co-pilot reminded him to wear a face but he ignored her requests, the airline said in a statement on Wednesday.
Two of the pilots failed to report their colleague to supervisors until the investigation had begun. In that time, a Japenese co-pilot had also been sickened with COVID-19.
In a statement, the airline said it had “always complied with the government’s epidemic prevention policy” and that “most of the crew members also follow the epidemic prevention regulations.”
“However, the behavior of individual employees undermined everyone’s efforts in epidemic prevention,” the statement continued.
In response to the incident, Taiwan’s transport ministry accused EVA Air of failing to perform inspections and tracking of its epidemic control procedures and fined the airline the maximum amount of 1 million yuan ($35,500).
The ministry said the incident had caused a “social uproar” and could cause “panic and social disturbances” after the country had done so well to keep COVID-19 under control.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taiwan has reported just 777 confirmed cases, the vast majority of which were imported from abroad. The country is only aware of 56 local infections and two infections that occurred on an aircraft. So far, Taiwan has reported just seven deaths caused by COVID-19.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.