The Central Epidemic Command Center yesterday said it would delay the lifting of the indoor mask mandate, citing public health considerations and ongoing discussions on how the policy should be implemented.
Earlier this week, Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), who is the CECC’s spokesman, said officials from several ministries were working on the policy and an announcement would be made yesterday.
However, Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Victor Wang (王必勝), who heads the CECC, yesterday said that the policy was still under review.
Wang said its implementation would be “delayed slightly” due to three main factors.
First, the center has registered an increase in hospital bed occupancy after the Lunar New Year holiday, likely due to an increased number of heart attacks and strokes amid cold weather, he said.
Even though many of the new hospitalizations were not COVID-19-related, there has been a slight “tightening” of available hospital capacity, he said.
CECC data showed that 2,894 of the country’s 5,609 hospital beds, or 51.6 percent, were occupied.
The second factor is that easing the mask mandate would affect multiple sectors of Taiwanese society and has to be adequately communicated with all stakeholders beforehand, Wang said.
Mask regulations in schools would have to be defined, he said, adding that the new term starts at most schools on Feb. 13.
Wang said the CECC is still collecting feedback on the draft policy from various parents’ and teachers’ groups.
The third reason is that COVID-19 case numbers have rebounded over the past few days, most likely because of underreporting during the Lunar New Year holiday, he said.
Even though the increase would likely be temporary, the CECC “wants to observe [the case numbers] for a few days to see if they begin to drop or stabilize,” he said.
Asked when he expects the CECC to announce the policy, Wang said it would depend primarily on the “resolution” of the three factors, but the center would “not necessarily” wait until the school term starts.
Wang said a “major announcement” would be made in May.
If Taiwan downgrades COVID-19’s communicable disease classification as planned, the CECC could be downgraded or deactivated entirely, he added.
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