Early screenings of China arrivals key to Taiwan's success: CECC head

CECC head said early screening of in-bound passengers from China key to Taiwan's containment of Wuhan virus

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Chen Shih-chung (right).

Chen Shih-chung (right). (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Health Minister and Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) on Thursday said the screening of passengers arriving from China at the start of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was key to containing the disease in Taiwan.

Chen made the remark after a BBC reporter asked him why Taiwan has been so successful in containing the outbreak given that it's so close to China, and what other countries could learn from Taiwan's experience. Chen said there were three key factors to Taiwan's success thus far, including a high level of vigilance, past experience battling SARS, and professional advice provided by experts.

He said that given that Taiwan and China are so close, the main reason for success was the country's epidemic control campaign beginning early. From Dec. 17, 2019, Wuhan hospitals began reporting patients suffering from a new, mysterious form of pneumonia.

Therefore, on Dec. 31 Taiwan began checking inbound airline passengers from China for signs of the new illness. On Jan. 2 the Central Emergency Operation Center was activated.

From Jan. 21, if a passenger arriving from Wuhan who had been screened presented symptoms of the disease, they would immediately be reported and placed in quarantine.This was two days before Communist China officially put Wuhan on lockdown.

In the case of those who were confirmed to have the disease, officials followed up on the health status of all of those they had come into contact with. He said this system of quarantining and monitoring all contacts helped prevent the outbreak from spiraling out of control.

Chen emphasized epidemic control measures would be different for each country based on its conditions, politics, and legal system. In the case of Taiwan, Chen said that past experience with SARS and H1N1, a comprehensive healthcare system that covers 99.9 percent of people in Taiwan, and a complete medical information system, enabled officials to find or exclude suspected cases.

The minister then praised the hard work of epidemic prevention personnel and the professional advice of experts in identifying and confirming suspected cases. Chen said that since Feb. 14, the CECC has uncovered many hidden cases among those who had not recently traveled abroad, so major retrospective investigations had to be carried out immediately.

He said they tested 113 persons until they confirmed the 19th case, a limo driver, who succumbed to the disease as soon as he tested positive. In addition, he said there has been an increase in testing among communities, with 803 retrospective tests all coming back negative.

Chen Shih-chung pointed out that Taiwan not only has a high level of vigilance but also has previous epidemic prevention experience and expert cognition in public health and professional medicine. With its strong health insurance system, Taiwan has experienced a stable epidemic situation but there are still great challenges in the future and it was important to keep up the good work.

He concluded by saying that it was not just Taiwan's increased vigilance, but also its past experience with epidemic control and the expertise of professionals in the field that had proven crucial to beating the virus. Nevertheless, Chen said there are still great challenges ahead and they would do their best to battle to the end.