Taiwan yesterday went on full alert against the swine flu outbreak, forming a central command center and ordering onboard inspection of airline passengers from North America before they disembark.
The Department of Health (DOH) also instructed all cities and counties to set up their own centers to monitor possible cases as the virus continues to spread around the world.
The DOH took the step after the WHO raised its flu pandemic alert level from three to four on Monday night — signaling a “significant increase in the risk of a pandemic.”
Established at a meeting of officials from several government agencies, the central command center will focus on bolstering surveillance for swine flu at border control points, Department of Health Minister Yeh Ching-chuan (葉金川) said.
In addition, anti-epidemic personnel will board all flights from affected areas to screen passengers for swine flu, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) spokesman Shih Wen-yi (施文儀) said.
“We do not have direct flights from Mexico, but there are about 12 to 20 flights from North America every day,” Shih said.
Passengers with flu symptoms will be kept for further tests and registration for follow-up assistance, he said.
Although no cases of the disease have been reported in Taiwan, Yeh said it was likely that the virus would eventually find its way into the country and that Taiwan had to be well prepared for the worst-case scenario.
The government has also mapped out a national flu pandemic strategy in response to the threat, which includes establishing a channel to coordinate the replenishment of medication and vaccine stockpiles among various government agencies, he added.
Yeh reiterated that people would not become infected with the flu by eating pork.
The virus is transmitted by people coming in physical contact with people who are infected with swine flu, he said.
Yeh said Taiwan had a sufficient supply of surgical masks and vaccine to deal with the flu.
The DOH has around 50 million to 60 million masks in stock and local manufacturers will be able to produce 200,000 doses of vaccine a month, he added.
Healthcare and ambulance workers as well as customs officials would be given top priority to receive vaccinations, the minister said.
He said Tamiflu was the best available medicine against the H1N1 flu strain and that the nation currently had enough to treat up to 2.3 million people.
Three domestic manufacturers were capable of producing more Tamiflu if necessary, he said.
The DOH gave local governments 24 hours to establish regional task forces that would fall under the central command center, Yeh said.
The government will also earmark a special budget, use TV channels and set up command centers in all cities and counties to promote information and measures on flu prevention, he said.
Earlier yesterday, Premier Liu Chao-shiuan (劉兆玄) inspected the swine flu monitoring mechanism at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.
All epidemic control personnel at the airport are equipped with ear thermometers, while passengers entering the country will have their temperature taken to prevent the virus from slipping through, Department of Health Deputy Minister Chen Tzay-jinn (陳再晉) said.
Preventive measures at the border are the most important safeguards to prevent the disease from taking a foothold and spreading, Liu said.