Taiwan is to have a rationing scheme for rapid COVID-19 test kits similar to the one introduced for masks in February 2020, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said yesterday.
Under the new rationing system, which is expected to begin early next month, every resident would be given a quota of five at-home test kits, Chen told a committee hearing at the Legislative Yuan.
Chen, who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), said that over the next four months, the government would contract with local manufacturers to purchase about 31 million rapid test kits for the program.
At the same time, the government would also import 100 million test kits, Chen added.
A spike in domestic COVID-19 cases has created a shortage of rapid test kits at pharmacies and other authorized vendors.
Many have complained that rapid test kits are too expensive at nearly NT$300 apiece ----- about three times the price in other countries ----- and Chen said that kits in the rationing program would be priced at about NT$100 per unit.
Photo: Yao Chieh-hsiu, Liberty Times
The rationing plan would be similar to an earlier mask rationing program, Chen said.
Under that scheme, locals and resident foreign nationals received a quota of masks, which could then be purchased using a national health insurance card or another form of identification.
Similar to the mask scheme, no subsidies would be provided under the rationing scheme for rapid test kits, Chen said.
A report submitted to the Legislative Yuan by the Ministry of Health and Welfare said that the five local companies that make rapid test kits have a combined production capacity of 4.9 million test kits per month, but that they would work with the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense to boost capacity to 12.8 million units by next month.
Output is expected to rise to 15.8 million units in the future, the report added.
Chen also told lawmakers that Taiwan could allow quarantine-free entry from July for travelers from countries with similar rates of COVID-19 infection.
If Taiwan and other countries have the same seven-day or 14-day infection rates, “there can be free travel,” Chen said when asked by Legislator Tsai Pi-ru (蔡壁如) if border controls might be eased by the start of summer vacation.
“But we’re not at that point yet,” Chen said, adding that, for example, the infection rate in Taiwan is much lower than in Japan or South Korea.
However, when pressed by Tsai, Chen said “yes,” referring to the easing of border controls by July.
“The pandemic is easing in many parts of the world and in Taiwan, the situation is becoming more severe. By July, we could be in a similar position to other countries,” he said.
When that time comes, Taiwan would set entry standards based on a country’s virus situation over the previous seven or 14 days, while maintaining restrictions for locations with a greater risk of infection, Chen said.
Places where the virus situation is mild “might not be so eager to allow in Taiwanese travelers,” Chen said. “But it shouldn’t be a problem for us to welcome travelers from those countries.”
Chen’s remarks went further than he had gone a day earlier, when he confirmed that Taiwan would consider shortening the quarantine period for arriving travelers and the isolation period for people exposed to COVID-19, despite the rising number of local infections.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Chen estimated that Taiwan would see an overall infection rate of 15 to 16 percent, similar to Hong Kong or New Zealand, or more than 3 million confirmed cases.
Despite the trend, shorter quarantine and isolation periods “are definitely possible,” as long as the move is backed up by scientific data, Chen said, adding that some countries have moved to a seven-day quarantine, while others have opted for five days.
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