Taiwan was enjoying accolades from around the world last year as one of the only populous places to avoid a major COVID-19 outbreak.
Strict quarantine rules and contact tracing had let the island of 24 million people go for eight months without the kind of local transmission that has swamped hospitals and hobbled economies around the globe.
The streak was abruptly snapped last month after a cargo-plane pilot for the country’s privately owned EVA Air returned from the United States, where Taiwan health officials believe he caught the coronavirus. He went on to infect a friend. Two copilots were also infected.
The incident sparked a scramble to locate hundreds of potentially affected people. It also exposed flaws in the treatment of pilots arriving from abroad, who were only subject to three-day quarantines.
Many in Taiwan were outraged, not least because the unnamed pilot in his 60s, who is a New Zealand national, appeared evasive about his post-quarantine movements and flouted mask rules during a flight.
EVA Air, which prides itself on its exemplary safety record, issued an apology and later fired the pilot.
“We offer our sincere apology to front-line epidemic-prevention teams, healthcare workers and the general public for the impact on public epidemic-prevention efforts our dismissed pilot’s regulation violations have caused,” the 33-year-old Taiwanese airline said in a statement.
Some residents of the self-governed island say the incident jolted them out of complacency, reminding them that Taiwan’s success in beating back the coronavirus was fragile at best. As of Friday, Taiwan had reported a cumulative 822 cases and just seven COVID-19 deaths.
“I think this incident raises more awareness for the public that, until the pandemic really gets controlled globally, a similar case