Taipei, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said Saturday that the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which he heads, will not allow local governments to test all arriving COVID-19 passengers without a coordinated response from the CECC.
“We won’t allow that” because the large number of false positives expected with universal testing could overwhelm Taiwan’s medical system and harm the country’s COVID-19 prevention measures, Chen said at a press conference.
His comments followed a call Thursday by Chang Ya-ping (張雅屏), former deputy secretary general of the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), for the 14 KMT local government leaders in the country to implement universal screening of incoming passengers, even if it means bypassing the CECC.
In a Facebook post, Chang argued that Taiwan’s disease control law gives local governments the authority to carry out their own tests.
Chang’s call was the latest development in a recent rift between the CECC and the Changhua County Public Health Bureau, after the latter allegedly violated the CECC’s guidelines and tested an asymptomatic teenager for COVID-19.
The Taiwanese teenager, who was in quarantine after returning from the United States in early August, tested positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 17 and was placed in a hospital negative pressure isolation room.
Under CECC protocol, all inbound passengers, except for some people who are in Taiwan for diplomatic or business purposes, must undergo 14-day quarantine and are tested for the virus only if they show symptoms. Those exempted from the full 14-day quarantine are required to show a negative test three days before their departure for Taiwan.
On Saturday, Chen rejected growing calls by public health experts and local government leaders for testing of all inbound passengers.
Those calling for universal testing of incoming travelers have been expressing fears that asymptomatic carriers could spread the virus to local communities.
In response, Chen said there are currently 250,000 people in quarantine in Taiwan, and it would cost the government over NT$800 million (US$27.2 million) to test all of those who have no symptoms, with 12,475 false positive cases expected.
All of those false positive cases would overwhelm the hospitals, as they would require five to six days of hospitalization, he said, adding that in such cases, patients are not discharged from hospital until they test negative two consecutive times.
Meanwhile, the contacts of each of those false positive cases will have to be traced, tested and quarantined, Chen said.
Furthermore, the crew members on the flights that carried the false positive cases would also have to be tested, which would result in unnecessary costs for airlines that are already struggling, he said.
Meanwhile, when a real outbreak occurs, the hospitals will have inadequate resources and manpower, and community spread will be unavoidable, Chen said.
In countries with high COVID-19 numbers, many people are tested and hospitalized, hospitals are overwhelmed, patients are sent back to their communities without effective quarantine measures, and they infect their families, he said.
The CECC, therefore, will not agree to any measures that could overwhelm Taiwan’s hospitals, Chen said.
KMT spokesman Chen Wei-chieh (陳偉杰) on Saturday criticized the ruling Democratic Progressive Party administration’s stance on the issue, saying that the Changhua County Public Health Bureau did a great job of protecting the health of its people.
The Changhua health bureau should be praised, not investigated, for identifying an asymptomatic patient, Chen.
Later Saturday, Changhua Public Health Bureau Director Yeh Yen-po (葉彥伯) said his bureau has stopped testing people in quarantine who do not have COVID-19 symptoms.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel