Tue, May 20, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Anti-SARS supplies sufficient: Cabinet

COMMITTEE MEETING Officials say supplies of face masks and protective garb will meet demand, but there is concern that the nation has overreacted to the outbreak

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The supply of goods and equipment demanded by both the medical profession and the general public to help combat the spread of SARS, such as N95 respirators and protective suits, will be sufficient until the end of the month, according to Vice Premier Lin Hsin-i (林信義).

"Everyone should feel easy about the supply of the goods. From N95 respirators to medical-protection suits, we can satisfy the demand through the end of the month," Lin said after the third meeting of the Cabinet's SARS-response committee held yesterday afternoon.

According to Lin, the daily demand for N95 respirator masks is 100,000 while available daily supply is 170,000.

The government estimates that 3.1 million N95 respirators would be demanded this month, while 5.16 million would be available.

As for other face masks, however, Lin said, both local production and imports need to be boosted.

Estimates predict that demand this month for such masks would reach 46.19 million pieces, while only 25.25 million could be supplies.

Lin said the supply of ear thermometers, protective suits and other professional items would not be a problem.

Lee Ming-liang (李明亮), head of the SARS-prevention command center under the committee, said that the daily demand estimated by the Department of Health was reasonable rather than an overestimation.

However, Lee said, the government had seen some "chain reactions" regarding the demand for face masks.

"In a way, Taiwan may have overreacted to the outbreak of SARS," Lee said.

"We will soon discuss, with professionals from the World Health Organization and US Centers for Disease Control, if Taiwan overreacted, based on our review of the nation's real-time response strategies to SARS," Lee said.

Speaking from a medical perspective, Lee said that overreaction was not necessarily a good way to the control a disease.

"We still need to consider the social cost we need to pay," he said.

Lee said that infection in hospitals, rather than in residential areas, had become the dominant challenge here.

He said that a professional task force -- headed by former Taipei City Bureau of Health director Yeh Chin-chuan (葉金川) -- will be established to investigate the development of SARS nationwide.

At a press conference held after the meeting, Cabinet Spokesman Lin Chia-lung (林佳龍) said that Premier Yu Shyi-kun had ordered communication with health care workers nationwide to be improved, in response to resignations announced earlier in the day by scores of nurses in Kaohsiung.

He said the Cabinet is also considering taking legal action,, to punish hospital staff or officials if it is shown that they were negligent in controlling the spread of the disease.

Lin said the government has the legal means to enlist health care professionals and commandeer hospitals if the disease spreads.

"We won't allow them to run away when going into battle and further discourage our morale," Lin said.

According Lin, Premier Yu told the committee that occupational environment standards need to be improved.

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