Community transmission of COVID-19 unavoidable: health minister

03/04/2020 07:38 PM
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (third from left)
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (third from left)

Taipei, March 4 (CNA) Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said Wednesday that community transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus is "unavoidable" in the long term, but said effective response measures could prevent a large-scale outbreak.

In an appearance at the Legislative Yuan, Chen was questioned by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Shen Fa-hui (沈發惠) about his expectations for the coming months.

Citing what he called two poles of public opinion, Shen asked if the virus is certain to spread at a community level, or if hot summer weather might bring about a reduction in the number of new cases.

In response, Chen said that since many cases of the virus present no symptoms, community transmission is "unavoidable" in the long term.

Calling the epidemic response a race against time, Chen said the government's goal is to keep the virus' spread "under control."

"We can't say the number of cases won't rise, but we want to avoid a sudden increase," he said.

Regarding the approach of summer, when seasonal influenza is typically less prevalent, Chen noted that viruses can survive at well over 50 degrees Celsius, saying "we're hopeful, but we're not going to let our guard down."

In terms of response measures, Chen urged local governments to prepare additional quarantine facilities for low-risk individuals, such as those awaiting virus test results.

Later on Wednesday, Shih Chung-liang (石崇良), director- general of the department of Medical Affairs at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, expanded on Chen's remarks, noting that the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) currently has 13 group quarantine facilities capable of accommodating over 1,000 people.

In a larger-scale outbreak, additional quarantine facilities would be needed for low-risk individuals in order to reduce the burden on the healthcare system, Shih said.

Citing recent decisions by the Taipei City and New Taipei City governments to set aside hotel space for foreign travelers placed under quarantine, Shih encouraged other city and county governments to designate facilities for potential use.

According to the CECC, no new COVID-19 cases were reported on Wednesday, leaving Taiwan's total number of confirmed cases at 42.

As of Wednesday, one Taiwanese has died of the virus, while 12 others have been discharged from hospitals following mandatory medical quarantines, the CECC said.

(By Wang Yang-yu and Matthew Mazzetta)

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