by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Ethan Chan HC/WikiCommons/CC
TEN DOMESTIC CASES and one imported case were announced at the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) daily press conference today. Five of these cases were already in quarantine while no new deaths were announced.
Three cases from today have known sources of infection, one case has an unknown source of infection, and one case is under investigation. There were four cases in Taipei, three cases in New Taipei, and three cases in Taoyuan. 87.8% of cases to date have been released from quarantine.
The COVID-19 alert is to be relaxed to level two starting tomorrow, but vigilance against COVID-19 and measures including QR code contact tracing, hand disinfection, and mask wearing. Borders are still closed and flight transfers are still suspended. Rolling adjustments may be made to measures when needed. Considerations will be made for emergencies for non-citizens needing to enter Taiwan, which will be raised by the relevant agencies when needed.
Taipei and New Taipei will not be opening up indoor dining during at least the first week of the level two area, while there is expected to be some restaurants that reopen indoor dining in Keelung and Taoyuan and some that do not.
If neighborhoods have specifically COVID-19 prevention plans that they believe can be implemented during level two, they can bring this up with the government and the feasibility of these plans.
The CECC stated that it is not against meetings by non-family members during the level two alert, but it still hopes for people to avoid unnecessary contacts.
A boat detained last week by the Coast Guard on suspicion of illegally smuggling migrant workers across the border found six out of eight workers on the vessel to be infected with COVID-19. Two of these individuals had the Delta variant. These cases are classified as imported cases. It is possible that this indicates the difficulty of preventing the Delta variant from entering Taiwan, even if quarantines are mandated for individuals entering Taiwan through normal channels.
When asked about social distancing for playing mahjong, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung stated that he generally does not believe this is possible. Similarly, it is likely to be difficult to maintain social distancing measures for crane claw machine stores, as a result of which the Ministry of Economic Affairs will roll out appropriate measures.
When asked about reporting of open data for cases or vaccination progress, the CECC stated that it is already doing this, but if the view is that the current website used for this is not as usable as the websites used by other countries, it will look into it.
There are fears that hotels will try to avoid reporting COVID-19 cluster events in order to keep operating or otherwise conceal parties. As a result, Taoyuan will offer 22,500 NT rewards for individuals that report violations of the law. Hotels may also have their operating licenses revoked.
According to the Executive Yuan, Taiwan should have sufficient supply of medical resources to deal with COVID-19 outbreaks at present. 90% of beds are free nationwide, while 76% of centralized quarantine hotels are free. 169 are being treated in specialized wards to treat severe cases of COVID-19 currently, with 110 are in ICUs in the greater Taipei area. Some of the deaths recently reported had onset of symptoms in May or June, when medical resources were scarcer.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs will consider how to resume the travel bubble from Palau.
According to New Taipei mayor Hou You-yi, all three cases from New Taipei today were already in quarantine. Though testing yesterday was at the lowest in some time, Hou called for members of the public to continue to be tested. To this extent, Hou stated that Taiwan needed to reach 60% vaccination and that this is only possible with BioNTech vaccines.
Taipei mayor Ko Wen-je stated today that three of the four cases in Taipei were from household gatherings. Ko sought to defend his record, emphasizing the difficulty finding asymptomatic cases and the “strange” nature of COVID-19. Ko stated that measures would gradually be relaxed in Taipei if cases remained below ten cases a day and there were no more than two cases per day with unknown sources of infection, suggesting that outdoor dining may be relaxed first. Ko previously stated that this week would serve as an evaluation period for whether indoor dining could be reopened, so it is unclear if this is still his position.
With concerns about Moderna vaccines close to expiry, local governments have expressed that they believe they can finish using the 50,000 doses that are close to expiry.
The Taipei city government sought to pin blame for this on the central government today, claiming that delays were due to local governments not being granted rights for decision-making and that this was due to vaccines held by the central government in storage. Taipei touted that it had faster vaccination than the central government, with 38% vaccination, called on the public to demand of the central government when Moderna vaccines would be available, and claimed that there were irregularities with Medigen receiving Emergency Use Authorization. Ko suggested that the central government was hoping to force individuals with allergies to other vaccines to be vaccinated with Medigen vaccines, criticized the lower periods between vaccination for category one to three frontline medical workers as a form of special privilege, but denied that his frequent attacks on the central government were for electioneering for a future presidential campaign when queried on the matter.
Former vice president Annette Lu claims that two international organizations are willing to provide Taiwan with 30 to 50 million vaccines of either the BioNTech vaccine or Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but has criticized the CECC for not responding to her. Chen Shih-chung stated today that he had received Lu’s messages but had not yet responded and would do so.
Appointments for the next round of vaccination will take place from 10 AM tomorrow to 12 PM on July 29th. Vaccinations from this period will take place from July 30th to August 6th.
The CECC currently does not plan on implementing vaccine passports due to the low rate of vaccination. The human rights of those who have not been vaccinated will be considered with regards to this issue. Testing requirements for the workplace are implemented for those who do not want to be vaccinated.
Although the CECC has announced that mixed vaccinations will be permitted in the future, this will prioritize speeding up vaccination and vaccinating those unable to be fully vaccinated with a vaccine brand, such as due to reactions to vaccinations. This will also depend on which vaccine brands are available in Taiwan. Mixed vaccinations will likely mix one dose of AstraZeneca vaccine with an mRNA vaccine. 3.5 million are expected to be eligible for mixed vaccination.
If Medigen vaccines will be used as part of mixed vaccination, this will be for second or third dose vaccination. Medigen will be included in vaccines that are publicly paid for. Experts have recommended the CECC to begin with vaccinating categories one to three, but this does not mean that categories one to three are able to use mixed vaccines now.
The CECC is focused on expanding first dose vaccination as wide as possible. Second dose vaccination may be delayed as a result, but this does not mean that second dose vaccination will be neglected. Vaccinations will be sped up between the first and second dose for students needing to go abroad, reducing the ten to twelve weeks between vaccinations, but there are no guarantees that such students will be able to obtain their first dose vaccination. Rights for individuals going abroad and those domestically in Taiwan are equal, but the CECC will prioritize students traveling to high-risk areas or to places without vaccines.
Stats posted by former vice president Chen Chieh-jen show Taiwan’s quick recovery from COVID, going from having the highest Rt among 20 countries in May to the lowest by late July and the second-highest number of tests conducted among those same countries by July. This shows a quick recovery seventy days after the Novotel hotel cluster.