Taiwan fines EVA Air $35,000 after pilot blamed for COVID infection

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TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan's Transport Ministry on Thursday fined EVA Airways Corp T$1 million ($35,000) after the government blamed one of its pilots for a rare locally transmitted case of COVID-19 because he failed to follow disease prevention rules.

Taiwan had until this week not reported domestic transmission since April 12, thanks to early and effective moves to stop the virus, including mass mask wearing and strict quarantines for all arrivals.

But the government was jolted by Tuesday's announcement of the domestic infection of a woman who is a friend of a New Zealand pilot confirmed to have been infected earlier this week having flown routes to the United States.

EVA Air has sacked the pilot, who has not been named and is being treated in hospital.

The case has ignited public anger after the government said he had not reported all his contacts and the places he had been, nor worn a face mask in the cockpit when he should have.

In a statement referring to the "uproar" caused by the case, the Transport Ministry cited its minister Lin Chia-lung as saying the airline had not fully put in place epidemic prevention measures.

For breaching rules related to COVID-19, the ministry will fine the airline T$1 million, the maximum statutory fine it can make, it added.

The ministry will require airlines tighten their epidemic prevention measures for air crew while also issuing its own new rules, it said.

EVA Air, which has already apologised for the incident, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It has not been possible to reach the pilot for comment.

EVA Air, like most airlines, is operating a very reduced schedule due to border restrictions globally.

($1 = 28.1190 Taiwan dollars)

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)