Migrant fishermen seek support from government amid COVID-19 pandemic

Taipei,  Migrant fishermen in the northeastern county of Yilan called for increased support from the government to help them combat coronavirus infection Saturday.

A Filipino fisherman in the county’s Nanfang’Ao, identified as Adones, told CNA that he has been unable to purchase masks at his local pharmacy due to the long lines.

He said he is very worried about the coronavirus reaching the area, which is considered one of the country’s major coastal fishing bases, with over 1,000 migrant fishermen docked there.

“I see the coast guard monitoring the temperature of migrant fishermen when we return from operations at sea, but I really hope the government will increase health checks to ensure our safety,” he said.

Facing the same situation of not being able to secure surgical grade face masks, Julio Guimawa, another Filipino fisherman in the area, said his employer only ever gave him one mask and that was when he visited a hospital for medical treatment after fracturing his left hand from a fall while at sea in March.

The lack of masks does not stop at Nanfang’Ao as evidenced by Norcelito Lebron, a Filipino fishermen at nearby Wushi Harbor, who said his labor broker has tried to help by giving him and his workmates each four masks per month.

“I am very worried about the pandemic, but I am convinced the Taiwanese government is committed to containing the coronavirus, because coast guards measure our temperature every time we return to shore,” he said.

The migrant fishermen expressed concern about their safety Saturday during a visit by Saint Christopher’s Church in Taipei to deliver clothes, food, masks, and information on COVID-19 prevention.

Father Gioan Tran Van Thiet, an assistant parish priest at the church, who visits migrant fishermen in Yilan on a weekly basis, said he and his volunteers were helping because the assistance provided by the fishermen’s employers and brokers is limited.

“Many of the fishermen only know the virus is deadly, they do not know to how avoid it or have the resources do so,” Thiet said.

The coronavirus would spread easily among the community because crews of fishermen work and sleep in relatively cramped conditions where social distancing would be hard to adopt, Thiet said.

Jhun Mascarinas, a Filipino fishermen in Nanfang’Ao, showed his sleeping quarters below deck, which he shares with 4 compatriots. He had to bend over to move around the cramped space.

Even though he did not complain about his living conditions, and called himself disciplined, it was clear that an air-conditioner was turned on to remove the dampness from the beds, which were less than a meter apart in separate wooden partitions.

Showing his masks still in their envelopes, Mascarinas said he doesn’t leave the port on his days off to avoid catching the acute respiratory disease that has so far caused hundreds of infections in Taiwan.

On Saturday, Taiwan recorded seven new infections, bringing the total to 355 since the coronavirus emerged in China at the end of last year, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center statistics.

There are 12,368 migrant fishermen in Taiwan, according to Ministry of Labor statistics valid as of the end of February.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel

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