While the government yesterday largely relaxed restrictions on large gatherings, as well as social distancing and mask-wearing rules, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) reiterated the importance of wearing masks and practicing personal protective measures against COVID-19.
The nation has had no new domestic COVID-19 cases for eight straight weeks, and as of yesterday, 430 infected patients had been released from isolation, while only six patients were in isolation waiting for three consecutive negative test results, said Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center.
“There have been no domestic cases in eight weeks, so we [decided] to ease domestic restrictions,” he said.
Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times
“However, strict border controls will remain,” he added.
Taiwan has only passed the “midterm exam” with good scores, but people would have to maintain good personal hygiene and practice the “new disease prevention lifestyle” to pass the “final exam” before effective vaccines are developed, Chen said.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is also CECC spokesman, reported the findings of a simulation study conducted by Academia Sinica and CDC researchers using a scenario in which the “new disease prevention lifestyle” was applied, as well as the responding mitigation plan.
The study used a simulation model for influenza virus transmission as its basis, categorized the population into five age groups based on a previous study suggesting different interpersonal contact patterns among the groups and referred to parameters used this year in a British study on COVID-19 to set a possible scenario, Chuang said.
The scenario assumed relaxed border controls, resulting in about one new imported case every five days, an incubation period of 5.1 days and a basic reproduction number of 2.4, he said.
Under the scenario, if two people close to each other both wear masks, the risk of infection can be reduced by 70 percent, by 45 percent if only one of them wears a mask and by 69 percent if they keep a distance of at least 1.5m indoors, he added.
As Taiwan has a hospital isolation room capacity of about 3,000, under the scenario, the nation’s healthcare system would become overwhelmed if mask-wearing compliance falls below 60 percent, Chuang said.
The healthcare system can function normally for only 200 days if the rate is about 70 percent, he said, adding that the rate must be above 80 percent for the healthcare system to be safe.
The study suggests that wearing a mask or keeping a social distance of at least 1.5m indoors is still crucial in preventing COVID-19 infection, Chuang said.
The study can give the CDC a rough estimate of the extent to which people must practice personal protective measures to prevent a serious local outbreak if border controls are relaxed, he added.
The virus has infected more than 6.9 million people and killed more than 400,000 across 187 countries.
Chen said the disease has a global mortality rate of about 5.8 percent.
Taiwan has reported 443 confirmed COVID-19 cases, which ranks the nation 140th among 187 countries, he said, adding that the number of confirmed cases per million people in Taiwan is 18.8, placing the nation at No. 168.
Taiwan’s success in fighting COVID-19 was due to its relatively flexible regulations and strict border controls, he said, adding that the nation did not issue stay-at-home orders or order general business shutdowns.
Its success was mainly due to the public being cooperative and accurate disease information being made transparent, he said.
Taiwan has expanded its testing capacity from about 500 tests per day to more than 6,000, Chen said.
The number of COVID-19 tests for each confirmed case in Taiwan was 164.9 as of Thursday, which ranks the nation third behind New Zealand at 250.4 and Australia at 213.9, he said.
As the domestic COVID-19 situation is under control, the center has launched the bilingual Web site “Crucial Policy for Combating COVID-19” (COVID-19臺灣防疫關鍵決策網) (https://COVID19.mohw.gov.tw) to share Taiwan’s efforts in fighting the outbreak, including a timeline of major events and response policies.
The frequency of the CECC’s news briefings would also be reduced from once a day to once a week starting this week, Chen said.
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