The COVID-19 outbreak is putting considerable strain on medical treatment in Taiwan. A good way to reduce the workload of healthcare and disease prevention personnel would be to let machines do any jobs that do not need a human.
A final diagnosis of COVID-19 is made based on the results of a person’s polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which takes three to four hours when done by hand. A rise in screening volume pushes facilities to increase testing capacity — more equipment, more personnel and longer working hours — which greatly increases the screening staff’s risk of infection. If the tests were automated, it would reduce the risk of infection, as well as boosting testing capacity.
In April last year, TCI Gene and the Ministry of Health and Welfare launched the Quantitative Virus Scanner-96 (QVS-96) — Taiwan’s first automated testing device for SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.
The QVS-96, which sells for US$700,000, is reported to be the second such device in the world. It can operate around the clock, conducting 900 tests per day with 99.9 percent accuracy.
Media reports at the time said that the virus scanner had been validated by the Centers for Disease Control and would be used in the agency’s Kunyang Laboratory, adding that satisfactory performance would see the scanner installed elsewhere, depending on the COVID-19 situation, and would improve testing efficiency during the flu season.
Reports last month said that TCI Gene had suspended the planned export of two QVS-96S virus scanners, with a daily testing capacity of 1,900 tests, and that the company had joined the national disease prevention team.
In December last year, LabTurbo Biotech and the National Defense Medical Center’s Institute of Preventive Medicine finished developing the LabTurbo AIO 48 — a fully automated testing device capable of conducting 1,000 tests per day.
These developments show that the nation’s biotechnology industry has had great success at boosting testing capacity.
As of March 31 last year, Taiwan had four testing and treatment facilities, which could conduct 3,200 COVID-19 tests per day. On May 15 this year, the Central Epidemic Command Center said that there were 126 such facilities, capable of conducting 16,000 tests per day. The ratio of centers to tests shows that the increase in testing capacity has mainly been achieved by increasing the number of testing facilities.
As the QVS-96 seems to have only been installed at the Kunyang Laboratory and one private facility, Landseed International Hospital in Taoyuan, it is difficult to see what kind of advanced approach the government might be deploying to boost screening capacity.
Taiwan makes sophisticated instruments that have been certified in the US and European nations, so why not allocate NT$200 million (US$7.24 million) of the NT$630 billion COVID-19 relief budget to purchase 10 automated virus scanners?
This would give the nation a daily testing capacity of 19,000 tests.
Such an investment would provide real relief for all of the disease prevention personnel, who have been working hard day and night on screening and contact tracing, and help to maintain adequate healthcare capacity for patients who need it. It would also allow local governments to put people’s minds at rest by speeding up the screening process.
Liu Te-yen is a student at National Sun Yat-sen University’s Graduate Institute of Marine Affairs.
Translated by Julian Clegg
It is quite the irony when former British prime minister Boris Johnson — a buffoon who for far too long was taken seriously — is branded a buffoon for saying something deadly serious. Following Johnson’s withering criticism of China at a business forum in Singapore on Wednesday last week, the event’s organizer, Michael Bloomberg, apologized to attendees, saying that Johnson was “trying to be amusing rather than informative and serious.” However, Johnson’s characterization of China as a “coercive autocracy” that had showed “a candid disregard for the rule of international law” was spot-on. His comments evoked the wisdom of the Austrian-British philosopher
Although internal Chinese politics are largely defined by meticulously concocted mysteries, it is an open secret that the battle for who will ascend to the highest echelons of Zhongnanhai is decided at the Beidaihe resort. It is where factions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) engage in horse-trading over leadership selection and delegate appointments long before the party’s national congress. What unfolded at last month’s 20th National Congress was predetermined at the Beidaihe gathering in August. In this context, the CCP, and particularly Chinese President and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平), used the event to project power and party unity.
There has been a surge of global interest in Taiwan’s security in recent years. Amidst the noise, it can be easy to lose sight of broader trends that are shaping the environment within which Taiwan operates. Taking a broader view can bring into focus what tasks are most important for Taiwan to protect its democratic way of life. At the global level, several trends are unfolding in parallel. First, great power competition is intensifying. Russia is employing violence to seek to redraw boundaries. China is advancing its ambitions by operating below the threshold of conflict. China-Russia relations are unnaturally close by
The Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau and the New Taipei City Prosecutors’ Office recently uncovered misconduct by Kaohsiung news outlet China VTV Co (中華微視公司). The company is being investigated for allegedly having financial connections with China without the approval of the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ Investment Commission. China VTV also allegedly conducted an information campaign by creating videos in line with Chinese propaganda and posting them on social media, aiming to foment social division and mistrust in the government, prosecutors said. This is nothing short of exhilarating, as it means that the government is finally using legal means to stop pro-China “accomplices”