Coronavirus: critics ask why Taiwan’s death rate is higher than the global pandemic average

·4-min read

Taiwan has reported a rapidly rising death toll in the widening coronavirus outbreak that saw a further 275 infections and 25 new deaths on Wednesday.

The island’s Central Epidemic Command Centre reported an accumulated total of 11,968 infections with 333 deaths by Wednesday, up from just 2,017 cases with 12 deaths recorded on May 17.

In less than a month, Taiwan’s fatality-per-infection rate has jumped from 0.59 per cent to 2.78 per cent, a number higher than the global average of 2.14 per cent.

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The high fatality rate has raised concern in the public with critics saying the government has not done enough to curb the outbreak.

“What has the government done wrong to have our Covid-19 fatality rate going even higher than the average global rate,” said Cheng Li-wen, a legislator of the main opposition Kuomintang party, in a recent Facebook post.

Taiwan was once lauded as one of the world’s models of keeping the pandemic at bay but since late April it has had a spike in locally transmitted infections – from fewer than 1,000 cases to more than 11,000.

At a legislature meeting on Tuesday, Cheng’s colleague Tseng Ming-chung asked Chen if Taiwan had a shortage of medicine that could effectively cure the patients, a potential cause of the rising coronavirus death toll on the island.

In response, Chen said the island had adequate medication for Covid-19 patients. He said the high death rate was mainly because of the acute rise in cases in the past month and because many patients had pre-existing chronic diseases.

He apologised for the rise in the number of deaths, saying the government cared about every single person’s life on the island.

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Chang Shan-chwen, a command centre specialist, said it was difficult to compare the local death rate with the global average because the latter was not broken down by age group or existing chronic disease category.

On Wednesday Chen, who heads the command centre, said health authorities would soon vaccinate older people aged 75 or above because the fatality rate was high among older people.

“We have put people aged 75 or above among the high-infection-risk group, and as soon as most medical and frontline workers have received their shots, we will start vaccinating those people,” Chen said in a news conference.

Philip Lo, deputy director general of Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control, said around 40 per cent of all the Covid-19 patients on the island were aged 60 or above. Some 89 per cent of patients who had died of the virus were aged over 60, with an average age of 72.

Of those who had died, 81.7 per cent had had pre-existing health problems, he said, adding that older people tended to develop severe pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome more quickly than younger people.

Lo said there were 35 instances in the past month of people found to have died at home before they were confirmed to have the virus. The cause of death in these cases was yet to be determined but he said foreign medical reports indicated such deaths usually occurred because of hypoxia – inadequate oxygen available to the body – or hypoxia-induced factors.

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A photojournalist with Next TV cable news network was among the 35, with his body discovered in the network’s office building. The journalist worked from home for some time before returning to the company’s offices on Monday, local news media reported.

Doctors later confirmed he had contracted the disease, prompting the office building to be thoroughly disinfected on Tuesday and all 200 employees given Covid-19 tests on Wednesday.

Initial test results announced by Deputy Taipei Mayor Huang Shan-shan showed that of the 166 employees taking the rapid tests so far, 10 were positive cases, Local news media said they included news anchors and reporters.

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