CORONAVIRUS/Changhua COVID-19 study violated public health rules: CECC

09/23/2020 09:20 PM
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Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (center). Photo courtesy of the CECC
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (center). Photo courtesy of the CECC

Taipei, Sept. 23 (CNA) A recent study carried out by the Changhua County government, which involved testing people for COVID-19 antibodies, was found to have violated public health policies but will not result in disciplinary action, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Wednesday.

At the CECC's weekly press briefing, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said that was the conclusion reached after an ethics investigation into the Changhua County Public Health Bureau.

The investigation was launched after the county's health authorities embarked on a COVID-19 study, in which they tested 4,800 people between June and August for antibodies produced by the human body following exposure to COVID-19.

The CECC, which had objected to the study from the start, said the investigation found that the Changhua health bureau had flouted national epidemic prevention policies by testing people in home quarantine who did not have COVID-19 symptoms and by asking them to break quarantine, as they had to leave their homes to get the tests.

Those actions violated Article 5 of the Communicable Disease Control Act, which establishes the respective roles of central and local government health authorities, and also Article 17 of the law, which lays out the responsibilities of the CECC, Chen said.

The laws, however, do not stipulate penalties for the types of violations committed by the Changhua health bureau, which means it will not be disciplined for conducting the COVID-19 study, said Chen, who heads the CECC.

Meanwhile, the government is looking at amending the law to include penalty clauses that would apply in cases of local health authorities overstepping their legal authority or failing to execute national epidemic prevention policies, he said.

The Changhua study, which was conducted in collaboration with National Taiwan University's College of Public Health, is the only major study to date on COVID-19 exposure rates in Taiwan. The CECC has argued that such studies are unnecessary, given the low number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Taiwan.

When Changhua announced that it was going to release the findings of the study on Aug. 23, Chen said the central Taiwan county was aiming to "stir up controversy."

After the release date was postponed by a week, CECC spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) attended the press conference and said the findings of study validated the government's COVID-19 control efforts.

In the study, tests were conducted on a sample group of 4,841 people at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure, including the contacts of confirmed cases, people in home quarantine who had returned from abroad, and healthcare workers.

Neutralizing COVID-19 antibodies were found only four subjects, indicating a positive rate of 8.3 per 10,000 people, according to the study.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan, Chen Wei-ting and Matthew Mazzetta)

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