CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan yet to meet lockdown criteria: Cabinet
Taipei, May 21 (CNA) Facing rising public concerns over the possibility of a lockdown, or an upgrade of the national COVID-19 alert to the most serious Level 4, the Cabinet has given its assurance that Taiwan has not yet met the criteria to merit a lockdown.
Deputy Health Minister Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) told the press after a weekly Cabinet meeting on Thursday that whether or not the alert will be raised from the current Level 3 to Level 4 depends on "certain conditions" and an official announcement by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), based on its judgement.
He suggested that local governments refrain from talking publicly about Level 4, or lockdown, before it really happens, "because it is not yet here."
Hsueh was referring to increasing public concerns online over the recent escalation of coronavirus transmission in the nation, amid which New Taipei Mayor Hou Yu-ih (侯友宜) said a few days previously that the city is preparing itself with tightened epidemic control measures that meet what he described as a "quasi-Level 4" alert.
Hou urged citizens to get themselves prepared psychologically for a highly controlled lifestyle with minimum activity allowed in the near future.
On Wednesday the CECC raised the COVID-19 alert to Level 3 nationwide after the country recorded over 100 locally transmitted cases for the fifth consecutive day.
The surge in domestic cases, however, has not eased to any extent since then, with 286 cases confirmed on Thursday and 312 on Friday.
Taipei and New Taipei have suffered greatly as most of the domestic infections have been recorded in the two largest cities in northern Taiwan.
Under the CECC's four-tier alert system, a Level 3 alert means that people are now required to wear masks at all times when they leave their homes, indoor gatherings of more than five people are not allowed and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people or less.
If the nation enters Level 4 alert, all public events will be prohibited except for essential services, law enforcement, medical and government services. All entry to offices and schools will be suspended.
Also, leaving home will only be allowed for essential activities such as to purchase food, receive medical treatment, or for essential work.
In addition, lockdown will be imposed in townships, counties or cities where the outbreak is severe. Only designated personnel may enter/exit the lockdown area and residents must remain in their homes.
However, there are clear-cut criteria for the COVID-19 alert to be raised to Level 4 -- namely, a daily average of above 100 cases over the last 14 days, with at least half transmitted via unknown sources, according to the CECC.
At Thursday's press conference, Cabinet spokesman Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成) repeated what Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said a day earlier that Taiwan is currently on Level 3 alert and has not met the criteria for the alert to be raised further.
Lo said there is no need to be giving out mixed messages about the alert level at the moment because that will do nothing but create unnecessary panic among the public.
He stressed the government is sparing no efforts to curb the outbreak and that based on the results of the ongoing epidemic investigation, almost all transmission chains have been traced.
"Over the past five days at least, more than half of confirmed new domestic cases can be traced back to their sources," Lo said, adding that "cluster infections have been found mostly centered in certain areas."
According to Chen, who heads the CECC, as the sources of most cases are traceable, it is highly likely that the wave of infections can be contained, since all relevant control measures have been reinforced.
National medical centers and local hospitals have been called upon to join disease control deployments, offering a total of 2,412 special wards for COVID-19 patients and 1,068 negative pressure wards nationwide, Chen said, while the number of special wards can be increased at any time should the CECC determine such a move to be necessary.
Chen urged people to stay at home unless for essential reasons at the weekend, reminding them to wear masks should they have to go out.
"Cutting personnel flow to a minimum is expected to gradually sever transmission chains. This will greatly help to control the spread of the virus," he said.
Since May 15, when the CECC confirmed 180 new domestic cases, the number of new domestic cases has seen a triple-digit rise every day, with 206, 333, 240, 267, 286 and 312 recorded from May 16-21, respectively.
Among the 312 new cases on Friday -- 144 of which were reported in New Taipei and 127 in Taipei -- 107 cases are linked to Taipei's Wanhua District, with 73 linked to hostess teahouses, six linked to a civic organization and five linked to a fruit store, Chen said at a press briefing.
While another 24 cases can be traced back to their sources, about 72 still have unknown sources and the CECC is still investigating other cases, Chen said.
Meanwhile, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) said on Friday that a total of 1,240 people received tests at four rapid testing sites in the city the previous day, with 59, or 5.5 percent, found to be positive for the virus.
Since the rapid testing sites were set up on May 14, the daily positivity rate has been 5.4 percent, 11 percent, 9.7 percent, 10 percent, 7.9 percent, 5.1 percent, 4.6 percent and 5.5 percent, respectively, as of Friday, according to data from the Taipei City government.
Because the positivity rate reflects the infection condition from a week earlier, based on the 2-7 day incubation period of the virus, these figures indicate that the outbreaks might be linked to the hostess teahouses in Wanhua and infections over the weekend that marked Mother's Day, Ko said.
The surgeon-turned-mayor noted that while the transmissions have not stopped, at least in Taipei they are not escalating.
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