Taiwan expands screening to curb COVID-19 pandemic

03/25/2020 08:22 PM
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Taipei, March 25 (CNA) Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Wednesday announced that it will expand the scope of its COVID-19 coronavirus screening tests to medical and healthcare workers with suspected infection symptoms in order to prevent possible cluster infections in the nation's healthcare system.

Those who work in hospitals, healthcare institutes and nursing homes who have developed fever or other respiratory symptoms are now subject to coronavirus screening tests, said Deputy Health Minister Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) during a CECC press event.

Previously, Taiwan only conducted COVID-19 tests on those with suspected symptoms who had recently traveled to countries with coronavirus outbreaks, or who had contact with coronavirus patients, as well as patients with severe flu-like symptoms.

According to Hsueh, medical and healthcare workers' National Health Insurance smartcards will identify their owners' occupation when they seek medical attention so that doctors can make the correct decisions.

Once they have been tested negative twice and no longer have a fever without using an antipyretic for 24 hours, these medical professionals will be allowed to resume work with their doctor's consent, without the need to finish the 14-day quarantine period, Hsueh said.

This is because Taiwan needs all the help it can get amid the current shortage of manpower in the nation's health system due to the pandemic, he noted.

The latest measures were launched after the CECC said Sunday that one of the COVID-19 cases confirmed that day was a nurse working at a nursing home in northern Taiwan.

According to the CECC, the woman in her 20s had no recent overseas travel history but developed a fever, dizziness and general weakness on March 12.

She visited a nearby clinic on March 16 but the medication she received did not alleviate her symptoms and she sought further care at a hospital on March 20.

She continued to work in the nursing home before her diagnosis was confirmed on March 22.

So far, 81 doctors, nurses and residents at the nursing home have been tested for COVID-19, all of whom have tested negative, according to the CECC.

Health authorities have moved five of the 53 residents to a nearby hospital while the other 48 were sent to two quarantine locations to prevent a further spread of the disease, it added.

According to Hsueh, health authorities are now asking nursing homes around the country to limit their visitors to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. Employees and residents of nursing homes are also having their temperatures taken on a daily basis, while employees of nursing homes who develop fever are forbidden to go to work, Hsueh said.

Nursing homes that fail to follow the relevant regulations will face fines of up to NT$300,000 (US$9,815), he added.

(By Wu Hsin-yun, Yu Hsiao-han, Chen Yi-hsuan and Joseph Yeh)

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