Taiwan decides not to conduct universal screening for all arrivals

Taipei,  Taiwan’s government will not test all passengers arriving in the country for COVID-19 because its current 14-day mandatory quarantine has worked well to keep the virus at bay, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said Thursday.

Su was the latest official to dismiss a call for everyone entering Taiwan from overseas to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, after officials from the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) made similar comments over the past few weeks, as Taiwan continues to see new imported cases, as well as a few cases with unknown sources that health experts said could have been contracted domestically.

The call for universal testing has been made in recent weeks by health experts and mayors worried that people who have the virus but are asymptomatic are entering Taiwan and that this could lead to community infections.

They argue that Taiwan’s current measures — requiring all passengers to undergo 14-day mandatory quarantine and foreign nationals to also provide negative test reports three days before their departure for Taiwan — are not enough to stop infections from entering the country. They believe universal testing could identify asymptomatic carriers and reduce the chance of community transmissions.

Currently, universal COVID-19 screening of all arriving passengers has been widely adopted by countries grappling with the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

Su, however, deemed the practice unnecessary for Taiwan at a regular Cabinet meeting that was attended by mayors of the six largest municipalities in Taiwan, according to Cabinet spokesman Ting Yi-ming (丁怡銘).

He said Taiwan’s practice of only testing incoming passengers who display coronavirus-related symptoms, but requiring everyone to undergo a 14-day quarantine, has so far been effective and has kept its communities relatively safe compared with other countries.

Su added that more testing might not help efforts to stem the outbreak, and could even create a quarantine loophole, because people with false negative results could breach quarantine rules and travel around Taiwan, thinking that they are free of the virus, while infecting others.

He said a low viral load, which can occur in the very early stage of an infection or during the recovery phase, could often give a false negative result.

Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), CECC spokesman and deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control, also defended Taiwan’s selective COVID-19 testing practice.

He pointed out that the COVID-19 situation in countries that implement 14-day home quarantine measures, including Taiwan and New Zealand, has stabilized, while that in countries that adopt universal testing programs without strict quarantine rules, including Japan and Iceland, has worsened.

Taiwan currently tests incoming passengers with COVID-19-related symptoms, with a positive rate of only 0.04 percent to 2.33 percent. If all passengers are tested, the positive rate would be even lower, Chuang said.

Lee Ping-ing (李秉穎), a CECC expert, said that it will cost the government NT$4.2 million per day in COVID-19 control measures if universal screening of all incoming passengers upon arrival is conducted.

Such testing at airports might miss about 35 percent of total infections as many patients might get false negative results even after contracting the coronavirus, creating a quarantine loophole, Lee said.

Even though the current selective testing cannot detect every traveler infected with the new coronavirus, any infected persons’ ability to infect others is significantly reduced after undergoing a 14-day mandatory quarantine, according to Yang Ching-hui (楊靖慧), a division chief at the Centers for Disease Control.


Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel

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