Reporting nine new local cases of the Omicron subvariant BA.5 of SARS-CoV-2, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday said that the BA.5 strain is gradually spreading in northern Taiwan and was expected to cause a wave of infections in one or two weeks.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), head of the CECC’s disease surveillance division, said 15,206 new local COVID-19 infections, 206 imported cases and 26 deaths were confirmed.
The local caseload was the lowest in 100 days — since 15,033 cases were reported on April 30 — and the number of deaths was the lowest in 85 days — since 19 were reported on May 15, he said.
Photo courtesy of the Central Epidemic Command Center
While the daily number of new cases has continued to drop, the nation must remain highly vigilant, as the caseloads might increase in the future, he added.
CDC Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy head of the CECC’s medical response division, said that genome sequencing of 174 local cases last week found that nine were infected with BA.5 — a rate of about 5 percent, which was more than double the roughly 2 percent reported last week.
They are four men and five women, all living in northern Taiwan — five in Taipei, two in New Taipei City and two in Taoyuan, he said.
Four of the cases came from two family clusters, while the others were sporadic, and the infection sources were unknown, Lo said.
Contact tracing is ongoing, and so far, 11 close contacts have tested negative while five tested positive, he said.
Genome sequencing for positive cases would be conducted to identify the virus strains, he added.
The genome sequences of the BA.5 detected in the new cases also showed slight differences, indicating that there are several chains of BA.5 subvariant transmission in the local communities, and that the rate of BA.5 detected among cases in northern Taiwan has reached about 10 percent, he said.
Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Victor Wang (王必勝), who heads the CECC, said while the total number of weekly reported local caseloads has steadily dropped since the peak in late May, the center expects the daily caseloads to start increasing in one or two weeks due to the spread of BA.5.
The center expects a wave of local BA.5 infections, but the daily caseload is unlikely to reach the level of the previous peak of about 80,000 to 90,000 cases per day, as the BA.5 has not been found to cause more severe disease in other countries, he said.
Contact tracing on recent local BA.5 cases is to monitor the spread of the subvariant in local communities, to get a clearer picture of the situation and respond to it, which is not the same as the previous goal of identifying possible infection sources and cutting the transmission chain, when “zero COVID” was the goal, he said.
With an expected surge in BA.5 local infections, the center advises the public to follow COVID-19 regulations, he said.
The center urges those who have unvaccinated family members with a higher risk of contracting severe illness from an infection, such as elderly people and children, to take extra preventive measures, including washing hands and wearing a mask, he said, adding that those who are more vulnerable should try to avoid crowded events and eating in restaurants.
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