Questions of Responsibility over Taiwan Navy Ship Outbreak
After the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on a navy ship, President Tsai Ing-wen and Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa apologized to the people and ordered related investigations. (Photo from: The Storm Media)
President Apologizes, Officers Dismissed for Navy Virus Outbreak
News Compiled and Reported by
Panshih ship of the Goodwill Fleet of the Republic of China Navy returned to Taiwan after over a month of embarking a goodwill voyage overseas. It was a surprise that a cluster infection of coronavirus (COVID-19) among the officers and sailors aboard was reported. As of April 25, 31 of them were confirmed infected. This incident not only disrupted the record of no confirmed infection case three days in a week but also caused waves of panic and accountability because the mishandling of the case by military authority allowing infected crews to walk around freely.
Minister of National Defense (MND) Yen Te-fa led high ranking generals of the ministry to bow to apologize to the people and at the meantime published an initial list of punishment: both captain Major General Chen Tao-hui and fleet commander Lieutenant General Kao Chia-pin were removed from their present posts to receive investigation. The minister himself and Naval Commander Liu Chih-pin petitioned to President Tsai Ing-wen for self-discipline.
President Tsai also held an interim press conference on April 22, apologizing to the nationals and requesting the military authority to expediate investigation the truth, clarify the responsibility and review thoroughly the pandemic prevention action.
The Goodwill Voyage Training Fleet sailed for Palau with three warships and 744 officers and soldiers aboard on March 5, reached Palau on March 15, departed Palau on March 18th, returned to Zuoying Naval Port in Kaohsiung on April 9, all crews disembarked and went home respectively on April 15. On April 18, three staff of the flagship Panshih was reported confirmed infected, the military recalled all crews for centralized inspection. On April 19, another 21 were confirmed infected. Afterwards, every day there were new confirmed cases of infection with a total of 31 infected by April 25.
On April 20, it was discovered that 24 confirmed infected crews after they disembarked, and three to four days before they were quarantined, they had been walking all over more than 100 stations, restaurants, department stores, outlets, night markets, schools, and taking public transport vehicles in 13 cities and counties. On the same day, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) issued 210,000 alert messages and publicized their footprints map calling for the general public if they had been around those places, they should take voluntary health management for 14 days.
Legislators one after another questioned to pursue accountability in the Legislative Yuan to the military and MND: First, before the sailing of the Goodwill Fleet, the government had suspended all public servants from going abroad. Why did the MND insist that the fleet still sail overseas?
Second, during the voyage, 148 crew members visited the clinic 226 times, and among them, five had records of fever. Why did the medical personnel not notify related authority?
Third, after the fleet returned to Kaohsiung on April 9, why didn’t all crew members quarantine first in a central location for 14 days before release? Or, instead of leaving them to roam freely, why weren’t the crew members asked to self-quarantine at home for 14 days?
A bi-partisan group of “109 Goodwill Fleet Pan Shih Flagship COVID-19 Infection Investigation Ad Hoc Group” was formed through joint resolution in the Legislative Yuan to intervene in the investigation of the negligence of the MND.
Because some confirmed infected flagship crews were tested negative first, then positive in second test, the CECC decided on April 21 to take antibody blood tests against all 337 flagship crews. According to the report, as high as 30 crews were tested positive including those confirmed infected crews and unconfirmed ones. This revealed that more crews aboard had been infected and might have more waves of infection.
As to the cause of infection, as of yet there is still no answer. In Palau, there is no case of confirmed infection and all those had contacted with the flagship crews were tested negative.
As of April 25, there is no new local infection case for 13 consecutive days and among the grand total 429 cases the newly incremented cases are imported or flagship crews. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung, who heads the CECC, indicated that by April 30, if no other community infection case means that Taiwan has passed and the flagship infection does not spread to community. He urged all citizens to increase alertness and isolation protection to greet the upcoming May 1 Labor Day’s consecutive holiday.
Officers of the Navy's Goodwill Fleet who contracted the coronavirus have visited Taipei Main Station. The photo shows increased sanitation efforts at the Taipei Main Station. (Photo from:
United Daily News)
One Mask Per 10 Soldiers, Tsai Administration Unable to Contain Pandemic in Military
United Daily News Editorial, April 21, 2020
Unexpectedly, more than 20 sailors from the Goodwill Fleet of the Navy contracted coronavirus (COVID-19) after returning from Palau. Furthermore, these confirmed cases were discovered multiple days after their arrival.
This massive group transmission not only disrupted the consecutive days of “zero cases” in Taiwan, but also served as a great wake-up call for the government, which appears overly confident of its epidemic prevention results.
Recently, the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen has strengthened diplomatic efforts through donating face masks worldwide. Meanwhile, the supply of masks for the military comes down to merely a ratio of one to 10 soldiers. It was not until the recent navy outbreak that the government promised an increase in mask supplies to one mask per soldier. It is questionable how this unreasoned distribution of masks could reassure the quality and combat force of our national army.
The Tsai administration began the “mask diplomacy” in March by donating 10 million masks to other countries. Meanwhile, the national army only received 17,000 masks per day, which is a ratio of approximately one to ten considering the 180,000 members in the military. This information was not known to the public until it was revealed by Minister of National Defense Yen Teh-fa when interpellated at the Legislative Yuan. Considering the close group lifestyle in the army, this ratio of mask distribution is utterly insufficient.
Faced with legislators’ objections, the Central Epidemic Control Center (CECC) increased mask supplies to 47,000 pieces, which was still a ratio of less than one mask to three soldiers per day. It was not until April 18 did the Legislative Yuan finally promised a sufficient amount of 189,000 masks. However, this change may have come too late. The night before the Legislative Yuan increased mask supplies, the CECC had already realized the three first coronavirus cases in the army. In other words, the Legislative was simply covering their mistakes by increasing mask distribution. Their fault still withstands even though the Ministry of National Defense claimed that the naval ship was prepared with 30,000 masks, which should have sufficed for each sailor to have one mask per day.
Without digging deep into whether the masks were distributed and strictly obligatory on the naval ship, it is obvious that the Tsai administration had not been fair in the allocation of its mask supplies. The government certainly had an imbalanced mentality of “exalting external affairs over domestic needs”. This mentality was fully demonstrated through the government using mask supplies as a means of diplomacy. This proves that their goal was to be exulted internationally instead of valuing our national defense and caring for our military forces. That is not to say that the government shouldn’t help other counties that are troubled by the pandemic; the fact that Taiwan can help should make all its people proud. However, as the military forces should be the most important pillar in national security, it seems inconceivable that Tsai administration continues to deliberately provoke enmity between China and Taiwan while misplacing basic pandemic preparedness resources in order to pursue diplomatic goals.
The coronavirus outbreak inside the naval ship and the delay of confirmation of cases after a whole month of quarantine at sea both reveal the negligence of management and the lack of medical alert on the ship. Nevertheless, arrows of blame should not solely be pointed at the military. Not only was the allocation of resources not enough, but it seemed that the government paid little attention to how well prepared the military was during this pandemic.
Besides, the attitude of the CECC has also been reckless with the influx of people coming from abroad. The CECC has refused to quarantine those who enter the country at a concentrated location, nor test them since it is not cost effective. If even the CECC seems to have let its guard down toward the pandemic, it could be assumed that the general public and military forces have also gradually become negligent.
At first, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung categorized the ship outbreak as external cases and claimed that the transmission may have happened in Palau. However, this conclusion is not rigorous. In reality, the naval ship had already left Palau for over a month. Thus, the concerning factor should be whether Taiwan brought the coronavirus to Palau in the first place, rather than shirking the responsibility. Later, Minister Chen restated that whether or not these cases were imported could not be determined.
All in all, the severity of the coronavirus transmission on the naval ship was totally unexpected. This incident revealed the imbalanced attitude of the Tsai administration in emphasizing diplomacy over national defence, as well as the CECC’s negligence and fatigue. Everyone should be alert and careful amid this wave of cases spread to the general public.
Taiwan’s Pandemic Relief Should Be Overhauled and Expanded
Economic Daily News Editorial, April 21, 2020
While the ruling and opposition parties are arguing over whether any direct payment should be included in the coronavirus relief package, the more important issue is if Taiwan’s relief plan can achieve the four projected targets, namely “to rescue timely, to avoid bankruptcy, to keep jobs and to stabilize economy.” If we compare the relief plan of Taiwan and that of the United States, we must say that the economic “Chen Shih-chung” remains to be discovered and that Taiwan’s relief plan still has plenty of room for improvement and needs more work by the ruling and the opposition parties.
Clear differences between the Taiwanese and American relief plans are worth exploring. Some parts of Taiwan’s plan can be adjusted immediately while other parts can be improved in the future. Their main differences are as follows: Taiwan’s relief plan has weaker planning ability, smaller scale, slower schedule, limited scope, too much political calculation and too little oversight. In other words, the comparison between Taiwan and the United States on coronavirus relief plan is almost like “developing country” versus “developed country.” Taiwan cannot afford to have ego inflation merely for her coronavirus control performance.
Despite that the United States might be slow in the early stage of coronavirus control. However, the relief plan passed on March 25 is an all-at-once and all-in-one relief package. It has taken everything and every aspect into consideration and we have to admire the deep and thorough research and the strong and rigorous planning ability of the United States to come up with such a brilliant across-the-board relief plan. The U.S. relief plan fully reflects at this critical moment the advantage of the emphasis on research and the support for think tanks. In contrast, policy research and think tanks are often ignored in Taiwan. The government routinely cuts administrative budget every year while increasing workload and ignoring details. Besides, there is an increased number of political appointees without any professional background in key positions, the general government planning ability is on the decline. No wonder major policy plans from the government seem like assorted platters, toadying and flattering but lacking overall consistency.
Second, the scale of Taiwan’s relief package is too small. The United States has mobilized 10 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) for the relief plan because the government anticipate the coronavirus could become seasonal flu and its impact on economy won’t be over soon. Japan and many European countries have also allocated 10 to 20 percent of their GDP for relief plan after realizing the seriousness of the economic impact. Taiwan claimed to mobilize NT$1.05 trillion (about US$35 billion), approximately 5 percent of Taiwan’s GDP, for the relief plan. In fact, out of the NT$1.05 trillion, NT$700 billion (about US$23 billion) are loans from banks that need repayment. Judging from the conservative business pattern of Taiwanese banks, the loan execution rate is not expected to be high. Another NT$140 billion (about US$4.6 billion) is early appropriation of government funds, not an additional budget. Only NT$210 billion (about US$7 billion) is special budget which is roughly 1.1 percent of Taiwan’s GDP. With this small percentage, the relief plan can only have limited effect. As a matter of fact, Taiwan’s economy is closely connected with the global economy. When the world is suffering from negative growth, Taiwan cannot be immune from its impact. The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics of the Executive Yuan has stopped claiming that “the relief plan can keep economic growth rate at 2 percent,” while the National Development Council has resorted to faith by saying it “believe” the economic growth rate will remain positive. Most think tanks and research institutes in Taiwan choose to stay quiet and not be the bearer of bad news. It is simply too optimistic to expect the economic momentum can be kept with such limited funds.
Third, each American citizen will soon get a check signed by President Donald Trump as US$500 billion relief fund is pouring into all walks of life. But in Taiwan, many small and medium-sized businesses will be bankrupt before the relief plan comes into effect. Who will be rescued by then? The Ministry of Labor has finally agreed to increase the assistance to workers affected by the coronavirus pandemic under outside criticism. The Ministry is also studying to provide a three-year NT$100,000 (about US$3,300)rescue loan to individual worker starting in May. This is an action in the right direction and the quota of 500,000 workers can be further increased.
Fourth, the scope of Taiwan’s relief package is too narrow. The U.S. relief package covers individuals, families, small businesses, public health institutions, state and local governments, community development banks, child nutrition, food stamps, students with loans or forced drop-outs, community care centers, universities, art and cultural institutions. In short, all walks of life negatively affected by coronavirus are protected under the relief package, showing that the US planning ability is second to none in the world.
Fifth, out of the US$2 trillion relief package of the United States, US$340 billion are executed through state and local governments, amounting to 17 percent of the total budget, including US$150 billion to cover the expenditures caused by coronavirus control. In contrast, the execution of Taiwan’s relief package seems to circumvent local governments on purpose, giving the impression of careful political calculation.
Sixth, Taiwan’s relief plan lacks proper oversight. The U.S. plan includes the creation of a federal “Inspector-General” and an “Oversight Committee” in the Congress to oversee the execution of the relief package is in accordance with the law and without malpractice. Taiwan’s relief plan is simply giving the central government a blank check. If case of malpractice, there is no mechanism of oversight.
One only regrets having read too few books when he needs to use them. Similarly, we only realize how ill-prepared we are when we need to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. If a government constantly abuses the bureaucracy and the civil service system, while the opposition’s scrutiny is just for publicity and far from effective, Taiwan is unavoidably heading towards a major blunder at a critical moment yet to come. Both the ruling and the opposition parties should seriously put in more effort.
The number of Taiwanese employees on unpaid leave continues to rise. (Photo from:
United Daily News)
April 20: New Taipei took the lead in conducting a military simulation drill in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In case of a community outbreak, residents will be asked to confine themselves at home for 21 days. New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-Ih commented that this is the most basic simulation, and actual responses may be adjusted in light of new changes.
April 21: The Legislative Yuan passed the amendment to the Special Act on COVID-19 Prevention, Relief, and Restoration, increasing the original budget from NT$60 billion (about US$2 billion) to NT$210 billion (about US$7 billion) and allowing the Legislative Yuan to consider an additional NT$210 billion to be allotted depending on the pandemic situation. Relief subsidies and compensation received due to the pandemic will be exempt from income taxation.
April 23: The selection of academicians in the Academia Sinica will begin in July. Three legislators, including Fan Yun of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), proposed in the Education and Culture Committee of the Legislative Yuan to review its current selection mechanism and implement nationality checks to ensure that future academicians hold Taiwanese (R.O.C.) nationality. Otherwise, non-citizen candidates can only be recognized as honorary academicians. The proposal stirred controversy.
April 24: Businesses and civil servants were originally held liable for the 2014 Kaohsiung gas explosion that killed 32 people. The Kaohsiung Branch Court of the Taiwan High Court reversed the decision and faulted the Kaohsiung City Government for failing to implement strict water drainage controls, resulting in pipeline holes and deaths by negligence. Three former officials, including former Secretary-General Chao Chien-chaio of the Kaohsiung City Government, were sentenced from 2.5 to 3.5 years in prison. Nine businesses, including LCY Chemical Corp. Chairman Bowei Lee, were found not guilty. The case may be appealed.
April 24: In Taiwan, the number of employees on unpaid leave continues to soar. According to the latest statistics from the Ministry of Labor, 804 organizations and 18,265 who have been subject to reduced work or breaks, an increase of 3,444 people and 216 organizations. Among them were many distributors, retailers, the hospitality, restaurants, and manufacturers, of which employees have been hardest hit by unpaid leave. Relief procedures remain complicated and slow, and calls to the special 1955 hotline have soared.
April 26: A fire erupted at the Cashbox Partyworld karaoke (KTV) bar on Linsen North Road in Taipei, and more than 200 people evacuated. Many people were trapped within closed rooms, leaving six dead and 48 injured. The fire safety of KTV bars has again attracted societal scrutiny.