The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus yesterday urged the government to change the nation’s COVID-19 testing methods and test all people under home quarantine as well as all travelers leaving Taiwan.
The KMT caucus held a news conference to suggest alternative strategies after the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Wednesday reported that 19 travelers from Taiwan had tested positive for COVID-19 upon arriving in other countries — 18 in the Philippines and one in Japan.
KMT caucus whip Lin Wei-chou (林為洲) said the COVID-19 situation in Taiwan might worsen as temperatures begin to drop, and that the surge in exported cases might be a warning sign.
Photo: Chien Jung-fong, Taipei Times
“Should the government not implement better border control measures in advance?” he asked.
As other countries have different COVID-19 screening mechanisms at their borders, testing travelers before they depart Taiwan would not only protect Taiwanese, but also the nation’s reputation, he said.
If exported cases are reported frequently, it might hinder the nation’s efforts to ease border controls, as well as an economic and tourism recovery, Lin added.
Wang Jen-hsien (王任賢), a physician at China Medical University Hospital’s Department of Infection Control, told the news conference that the CECC claims Taiwan has no local infections.
However, several people tested positive in the Philippines after traveling from Taiwan, indicating that there had been false-negative and false-positive cases, and that Taiwan’s screening method is flawed, Wang said.
The current testing method employs a diagnostic kit used in hospitals to diagnose patients, not to screen them, so the government should evaluate its screening method and find other test kits to screen departing passengers, he said.
Wang said the diagnostic kit used in Taiwan is the most expensive in the world, costing NT$6,000 to NT$10,000 per test, and also requires a physician’s prescription and a government request notice.
Taiwan has shunned wide-scale testing, but people in home quarantine might be asymptomatic carriers who might pose high risks, he said.
The government should implement wide-scale testing on people in home quarantine and on travelers departing Taiwan, Wang said.
Taiwan Society of Preventive Medicine chairman and KMT Legislator Arthur Chen (陳宜民) said that the Ministry of Health and Welfare has been doing “window dressing,” but lacks actual disease prevention measures, such as establishing a screening platform or transferring technology to healthcare facilities.
COVID-19 testing in Taiwan is unreasonably expensive, reducing the willingness of people with no symptoms to get tested, he said, adding that 35 to 40 percent of the confirmed cases in the US were asymptomatic, so the problem should not be taken lightly.
A man contracted COVID-19 twice four months apart, showing that the body’s immune response to the novel coronavirus might wane in a few months, Chen said, questioning the effectiveness of a vaccine.
The complicated situation might not be solved by achieving herd immunity or developing vaccines, he said, adding that the CECC’s claim of “precise disease prevention” is a “deceptive joke,” because not a single case should be left out in disease prevention.
While Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, questioned the accuracy of the tests conducted in the Philippines, KMT Legislator Sandy Yeh (葉毓蘭) said that the Philippines has confirmed more than 290,000 cases, showing that it has a greater testing capacity than Taiwan.
Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), the CECC’s spokesman, said the center deals with each exported case carefully, and more than 200 close contacts have been tested for COVID-19, but none have tested positive and no local outbreak have been detected.
Lee Ping-ing (李秉穎), a physician at National Taiwan University Hospital’s division of pediatric infectious diseases and a member of the CECC’s specialist advisory panel, said that if the Philippines often reports positive cases among travelers from Taiwan, the government could consider conducting wide-scale testing on travelers to the Philippines, adding that further discussion is needed to determine who should shoulder the extra financial burden.
Additional reporting by Lee I-chia
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