TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan will put 700 navy sailors into quarantine after three cases of the new coronavirus were confirmed among sailors who had been on a goodwill mission to the Pacific island state of Palau, the government said on Saturday.
Three Taiwan navy vessels visited Palau - one of only 15 countries to maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan - in the middle of March, before returning to Taiwan a month later, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung told reporters.
The three confirmed cases had all shared quarters on the same ship, but all 700 sailors on all three ships were being re-called and would be put into quarantine, he said.
Taiwan’s presidential office said that President Tsai Ing-wen had been at the ceremony to welcome back the ships but had only waved to the sailors from the shore and had not been exposed to the risk of infection.
These are the first coronavirus cases reported in Taiwan’s military. The navy was carrying out a deep clean of the three ships to disinfect them.
Taiwan has only reported 398 coronavirus cases and six deaths, a far lower number than many of its neighbours due to strict measures taken in the early stages of the outbreak to contain its spread.
The president of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that his country of 20,000 people had not had a single case of the coronavirus and he was going to shut it off from the outside world to keep the virus out.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel