CECC outlines contingency plan for community spread of COVID-19

02/22/2020 10:13 PM

Taipei, Feb. 22 (CNA) Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Saturday that it has planned a series of response measures, in the event that the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) begins to spread at the community level.

At a press conference, Shih Chung-liang (石崇良), director general of the department of Medical Affairs at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, said the CECC's four-part prevention plan is based on Taiwan's experience of dealing with the 2003-2004 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The first part of the plan will deal with prevention efforts, since any community level transmission would cause a sudden spike in the number of confirmed cases, he said, but did not elaborate.

Second, new rules will be introduced to minimize the risk of infection among healthcare workers, Shih said.

Citing his experience as an emergency room doctor at National Taiwan University Hospital during the SARS outbreak, Shih said the medical staff was split into two teams working on alternating two-week shifts.

That way, an entire team could be quarantined for two weeks without the risk of infecting their colleagues, he said.

If the COVID-19 outbreak reaches a level of urgency similar to the SARS epidemic, medical staff will again be split into teams, and their movements within the hospital will be limited in order to minimize contact with patients, he said.

Third, medical resources will be allocated to ensure that they reach the people who need them most, Shih said.

Currently, the country's 1,100 negative-pressure isolation units are at 60 percent capacity and are available for anyone who contracts the COVID-19 and for those being tested based on factors such as their travel history, according to Shih.

In the event of a community level outbreak, however, demand for those units would increase and patients would be treated at other medical institutions, depending on the severity of their symptoms, he said.

The hospitals will be selected on the basis of their "emergency responsibility levels" -- a set of standards that regulate the types of emergency services hospitals can provide, predicated on their staffing levels and technical capabilities, Shih said.

Nationwide, there are 41 hospitals with "advanced" emergency responsibility, and 80 with "intermediate" level responsibility, he said.

The fourth aspect of the CECC's plan involves reducing the number of people seeking non-essential medical treatment, Shih said.

In terms of implementation, Shih said the CECC will discuss the measures with public health experts next week and will start working with the relevant medical institutions once a consensus has been reached.

As of Saturday, the COVID-19 had infected 76,000 people and killed more than 2,300 worldwide, with the vast majority of cases occurring in China, while 26 cases and one death had been confirmed in Taiwan.

While the government maintains that there has been no community level transmission of the virus in Taiwan, the CECC said that in the 24th case, which was reported Wednesday, the source of the infection had not yet been determined.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan and Matthew Mazzetta)

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