Taiwan to set up Covid-19 testing stations as 286 new local cases reported

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Taiwan is to set up Covid-19 testing stations all over the island to test for viral infections as the number of domestic cases continues to rise and one new death was recorded.

On Thursday, an additional 286 locally transmitted infections were reported with 87 in Taipei and 157 in New Taipei – the two cities with the largest number of domestic cases – according to Health Minister Chen Shih-chung.

“One new death was reported involving a 70-year-old woman from [Taipei’s] Wanhua district,” Chen said. The woman, who lived alone and had heart and vascular problems, showed Covid-19 symptoms on May 15, but had refused to be hospitalised. “She was found dead on May 17,” Chen said.

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Elsewhere on the island, new cases were also reported in some cities and counties in northeastern, northern, central, and southern Taiwan.

The new cases bring the number of locally transmitted infections to 1, 577 for the past 10 days, and to 1,669 since the pandemic began. There were also nine imported cases on Thursday, taking the combined total to 2,825, with 15 deaths.

Chen said the infection rate appeared to be slowing, from the results of Covid-19 tests conducted by the Taipei and New Taipei city governments.

“The test results in Taipei show the positive ratio has dropped – from 11, to 9.7, then 10, to 7.9 and 4.7 per cent, respectively” from May 14 to May 18, he said, adding results in New Taipei also showed signs of easing.

Chen called on the public to stay at home as much as possible to reduce the rate of community transmission.

He also said that while local hospitals would conduct Covid-19 tests for those in need, including people travelling abroad, there was also a need to have local governments – in addition to Taipei and New Taipei – set up local testing stations at potentially high-risk spots across the island.

The recent spike prompted health authorities to raise the alert level for the entire island to three in its four-tier system on Wednesday and to tighten social distancing measures.

The decision to set up testing stations was taken on Thursday at a meeting between the Central Epidemic Control Centre and the heads of Taiwan’s 22 local city and county administrations to coordinate efforts to contain the disease and distribute medical resources.

“The stations will be set up at potentially high-risk hotspots in each city and county,” said Chen Tsung-yen, deputy commander of the centre. “Those who have symptoms or contacts with people suspected to have Covid-19, or who have visited places where a confirmed case was reported are urged to take the viral tests at the stations.”

A woman is disinfected as she leaves a Covid-19 testing site in Taipei on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters
A woman is disinfected as she leaves a Covid-19 testing site in Taipei on Wednesday. Photo: Reuters

Chen Tsung-yen said that in addition to discussing issues including distribution of medical resources and vaccines, the 22 local governments were authorised to make public tracing results or the places where an infected patient had visited.

The local governments were also asked to step up their efforts to combat disinformation which created panic in local communities and sabotaged the trust and image of the government, he said.

“Those found to have circulated rumours and disinformation would face a maximum fine of NT$3 million (US$107,000) or a jail sentence of up to three years.”

President Tsai Ing-wen’s government has been the subject of rumours that it was impotent in its handling of the pandemic and dropped its guard, resulting in the latest outbreak.

One recent rumour accused the government of “trampling on human lives” and claimed it had been unwilling to buy 30 million doses offered by the US-German partnership Pfizer BioNTech – an allegation the health minister dismissed on Thursday as sheer fabrication.

The health minister said the island did secure US-made Moderna vaccines and the manufacturer sent 200 testing kits to Taiwan on Wednesday in preparation for their arrival, presumably in June.

Taiwan has signed contracts to buy 5.05 million doses of the Moderna vaccine and 10 million AstraZeneca doses, as well as 4.76 million doses of unspecified brands through the Covax Facility. A locally developed vaccine is expected to become available in July.

Chen said the island received a shipment of 410,000 AstraZeneca doses on Thursday, in addition to some 310,000 AstraZeneca shots delivered to Taiwan in March and April.

As of Wednesday, more than 264,000 of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people had taken their first doses.

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