Central Taiwan health chief investigated over proactive COVID-19 screenings

CECC's investigation sparks controversy, public health experts rally behind Changhua County health bureau

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Changhua County Public Health Bureau head Yeh Yen-Po.

Changhua County Public Health Bureau head Yeh Yen-Po. (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Changhua County Public Health Bureau is under investigation for conducting proactive screenings for COVID-19 after an asymptomatic teenager tested positive while in home isolation, sparking controversy among public health experts around Taiwan.

Lauded as a national food safety hero, the health bureau's chief Yeh Yen-po (葉彥伯) has led the charge in several high-profile food safety scandals over the past decade. Yeh has also built a large epidemiological database and recently worked with National Taiwan University’s (NTU) College of Public Health to conduct mass antibody testing to determine the prevalence of the coronavirus in the county.

In response to the Central Epidemic Command Center's (CECC) investigation into Yeh, Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), former dean of NTU’s College of Public Health, on Tuesday (Aug. 18) took to Facebook to express concern. Chan believes proactively screening all arrivals at the border, regardless of symptoms, can reduce the risk of cross-infection in homes.

The leading public health expert has been advocating mass testing of arrivals since June as a growing number of passengers test positive in other countries after departing Taiwan.

Chan expressed his support for the Changhua health bureau's decision to test the asymptomatic teenager, citing the World Health Organization's (WHO) warning that asymptomatic cases tend to be younger.

He said he does not understand why the CECC has ignored this warning and even obstructed Changhua health authorities' attempts to find potential carriers. "I am saddened by what's happening," he stated.

Meanwhile, a joint letter from the country's top physicians is drumming up support for Yeh's efforts in Changhua, urging the CECC to adjust its epidemic prevention work to adapt to changing needs by engaging in discussions with front-line medical workers. The letter also requested cooperation from the command center, instead of confrontation, when there is a policy difference, with the aim of giving people in Taiwan peace of mind.

Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the CECC, explained at his regular press briefing Wednesday that the investigation is not meant to punish Yeh and his team but to gain a better picture of how local testing can be meticulously carried out when a test recipient is under home quarantine. Chen said he hopes the result of the investigation will serve as a good reference for reviewing and improve pandemic prevention.