Three Navy crew test positive for COVID-19 after months at sea

Three navy crew members have tested positive for COVID-19 after departing Taiwan February 21, and stopping only at the coronavirus-free island of Palau more than one month ago.

The three young sailors, all in their 20s served on board one of three ships to make the annual oceanic training voyage, returning to the Port of Kaohsiung April 9. This year’s voyage was shortened to 48 days due to the coronavirus situation preventing visits to some countries.

Since the ships had docked at Palau for three days between March 12 – 15, the sailors stayed on board for a further 6 days after docking in Kaohsiung in order to complete a stipulated 30 day quarantine period.

During the quarantine period, on April 12, one of the sailors sought treatment for a headache, and had his temperature measured as 36.6°C. Another of the cases felt unwell but did not report his symptoms or seek medical attention.

While reports in various local media earlier today claimed that the three were cabin mates, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) clarified that they bunked in separate cabins. Two were students, and one was a non-commissioned officer, the MND said.

The two students shared a cabin with 10 other people, and the NCO shared a cabin with 9 other people, according to a report in ET Today, quoting the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC). There were 337 crew members on the ship, ROCN Panshi.

After disembarking on April 15, all three crew mates went to their respective homes, in Taoyuan, Taichung, and Kaohsiung. After one cabin mate was diagnosed as COVID-positive, the other two also were tested, and returned positive results.

The CECC has assigned the cases as 396, 397, and 398, and categorized them as imported cases of COVID-19.

ROC Naval officers visiting Palau in March 2020.

700 Navy Personnel Quarantined

The CECC said that more than 700 officers and crew of the three ships must report to the central quarantine office by 5:00 pm today. The personnel will be distributed to 7 quarantine facilities to be tested. Positive cases will be sent to hospital isolation units for treatment, and those who test negative will be required to spend 14 days in quarantine.

CECC commander, and Minister of Health, Chen Shih-chung (陳時中)  said that he hoped the test results would be known by tomorrow.

While the WHO says that COVID-19 has a one to fourteen day incubation period, the navy personnel had spent 26 days at sea, then 6 days in quarantine after visiting an island with no reported coronavirus cases.

Media reports, and even medical experts have ascribed a range of anthropomorphic characteristics to the mystery virus, describing it as “very sneaky,” “devious,” and “smart.”

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