Taiwan swine flu epidemic to last 200 weeks: Health Minister

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The swine flu epidemic will last 200 weeks, Department of Health Minister Yaung Chih-liang told a news conference Thursday.
Yaung was basing his estimate on 30,000 people being infected per week, and on a total of 30 percent of Taiwan’s population of 23 million eventually being infected with the A (H1N1) flu virus.
At present, the weekly rate of infection stands at more than 14,000, with around 40,000 people already infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC announced Thursday that a total of 12 virus patients were still in hospital, including five new cases. Official statistics would abandon the use of the term “severe cases,” the CDC said, instead mentioning how many patients had been in hospital. A total of 52 people fell under the new category, while the death toll remained at five.
Yaung downplayed fears that the nation’s hospitals would be overwhelmed, saying the infections would not all happen simultaneously, but rather spread gradually.
Over the past days, prominent health experts have been offering estimates of how seriously the virus would impact Taiwan. Former DOH Minister Chen Chien-jen said almost 7,000 people might die, or one in 1,000 of the 7 million expected patients. Former CDC chief Su Ih-jen predicted 5,000 to 10,000 deaths.
Yaung said he was the one to suggest not to mobilize the national security mechanism for the time being. Earlier this week, President Ma Ying-jeou decided in a phone conversation with Premier Liu Chao-shiuan to reject an opposition request to call the National Security Council together.
Instead, Ma was meeting with health experts and top government officials at the Presidential Office Thursday afternoon.
Yaung voiced anger about what he described as a small minority of media spreading false rumors, such as a report that public employees would receive 20 days off as “infection leave,” leading to the fear that public services would be affected. Spreading rumors was punishable with fines of up to NT$500,000, Yaung said.
The Council of Labor Affairs said Thursday that companies employing more than five people could not turn down requests from employees to take care of infected relatives. The employees could take a maximum of seven days off per year, the CLA said.
Labor groups and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party protested against the fact that the leave would be unpaid for employees in the private sector, in contrast to civil servants, who will be paid for the seven days.
The Taipei City Department of Labor said private-sector workers should be paid if their employers ask them to stay at home on suspicion of an infection, or if the flu was contracted as a result of their work.
After protests from labor groups and from the opposition Democratic Progressive Party because public employees would get paid leave under the same circumstances, the CLA announced that private-sector workers could also qualify for paid leave.
Premier Liu Chao-shiuan cautioned against irrational fear of the swine flu.
“What people need now is to raise their awareness of how to prevent infection, not to raise panic,” Liu told a news conference following the regular weekly Cabinet meeting Thursday.
He pledged there would be improved coordination of emergency services so severe cases of A (H1N1) would receive faster and better treatment.
Liu cautioned schools and the military working in disaster relief to take special care because they were more vulnerable to the virus. The Ministry of Education said that if the epidemic affected too many schools, it would consider a nationwide shutdown with classes being shown on the country’s public television channels instead.
He refused to say though whether the government was considering postponing the opening of the new school year, scheduled for next Monday, and the December local elections.
Medical experts, including former CDC chief Su, said the traditional way of preparing for elections, such as holding massive campaign rallies, would help to spread the virus. Candidates should hold televised speeches instead, Su suggested.
The DPP said the government had already missed the perfect period to prepare for the virus outbreak. Previous DOH Minister Yeh Ching-chuan failed to take the necessary measures when he was in charge from May to August, the DPP said. Yeh resigned to run in the race to become the ruling Kuomintang candidate for the Hualien County Magistrate elections. He owed the public an apology for his lack of action, the DPP said.
After hitting schools and the military, A (H1N1) also entered prison, the Ministry of Justice announced Thursday. One inmate convicted for drunk driving was diagnosed with swine flu Wednesday and released on paying a fine, as was allowed because of the nature of his crime, the ministry said. Present and former cellmates numbering a total of 64 were immediately tested for the virus as well.

Updated : 2021-04-12 10:14 GMT+08:00