Taiwan questions coronavirus fatality rate as death toll rises

·4-min read

Taiwan reported only six new Covid-19 deaths and 79 infections on Tuesday, the lowest since its latest outbreak peaked about a month ago.

But overall, its case fatality rate is more than 4 per cent – much higher than the global average of 2.16 per cent and the US’ 1.8 per cent. It is also higher than the 1.76 per cent reported in Hong Kong, according to the global figures.

Among the 575 deaths reported since the pandemic began over a year ago, more than 560 have been recorded since late April, when the outbreak started.

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And in the last eight days, at least 100 vaccinated people have died, prompting public concerns about the safety of vaccines and the cause of the higher fatality rate.

“Why is our case fatality rate so high? Did we do anything to keep such a rate down?” Kaohsiung city councillor Tung Yen-chen said in the southern Taiwanese city on Monday.

On Tuesday, Taipei city councillor Lo Chih-chiang asked the island’s Central Epidemic Command Centre to explain the risks of taking the jabs and the rise in the number of deaths after vaccination.

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Medical experts said a number of factors could have contributed to the high case fatality rate, a figure that alone did not necessarily prove Taiwan had one of the highest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world.

Wu Chun-ying, a biomedical information expert at National Yang-Ming Medical University, said the true number of infections in Taiwan might be higher than the number detected.

“Thirty-nine people died in hospitals between May 11 and June 11, but they only became confirmed cases later when they tested positive for the virus,” Wu said.

He said that this showed there were undiagnosed cases in the community, affecting the accuracy of calculations of the case fatality rate.

“If there is a bigger number of infections, then the case fatality rate will be lower,” Wu said.

Shen Fu-hsiung, a political commentator and doctor, said the spike in cases only started in late April, and it would be inaccurate to compare figures obtained in less than two months to longer-term data elsewhere.

“Take Washington state for example. Its case fatality rate dropped from 4.9 per cent in April last year to 0.7 per cent in April,” Shen said, adding that this meant the surge would eventually ease.

He said other factors included age, existing chronic or other serious diseases, inadequate medical facilities to treat the patients and inadequate Covid-19 tests.

Chang Shan-chwen, a medical researcher advising the command centre, said 90 per cent of those who died of Covid-19 were over 60, and 40 per cent died between eight to 14 days after they were hospitalised for confirmed infections.

“But there were also cases of deaths taking place in two to three days [of hospitalisation], which took up 18 per cent of the case fatality rate,” he said, adding the authorities would go deeper in studying the causes.

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Chang also said that on average in Taiwan, about 200 people aged over 75 died every day, and the number of elderly people who died of Covid-19 was in fact a lot smaller than the daily average.

Lo Yi-chun, deputy director of Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control, said there was no evidence showing that people died because of the vaccines.

“Most of these people were either elderly or had existing chronic or serious diseases, and their deaths might not relate to the vaccines,” Lo said.

He added that with the number of infections falling gradually in June, “the case fatality rate would also slow down”.

Chu Hung-wu, a doctor from Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, said that regardless of whether Taiwan’s fatality rate was high, the public had to reach herd immunity to deal with the pandemic.

“The most important thing to do is to have as many people inoculated as soon as possible as it is the best available way to reduce the risk of the pandemic,” he said.

He said new variants might emerge but at least people would have a certain level of protection to ensure that an infection was not terminal.

So far, about 6 per cent of the island’s 23.5 million people have been vaccinated, according to the command centre.

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