TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said Sunday (May 23) this week will be the critical period for determining whether to lower or raise the nationwide epidemic warning level.
At a press conference on Sunday, Chen said the decision to upgrade or downgrade the current Level 3 restrictions will depend on three key factors: the positivity rate, number of confirmed cases, and overall trend of case distribution.
That day, the CECC announced 287 local COVID-19 cases as well as 170 retroactively added from the previous week. New Taipei City had the largest number of cases with 142, followed by Taipei with 77, Taoyuan City with 23, Pingtung and Nantou counties with eight cases each, and Yilan County with 6 cases.
Level 3 alert
The Level 3 alert was first implemented in Taipei and New Taipei May 15 and was made nationwide on May 19, but cases have continued to surge across the country. During the press briefing, CECC advisor Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said that after the Level 3 restrictions went into effect, contact among people has fallen, and the center expects the chain of transmission to gradually diminish.
He said that based on the estimated five to seven-day incubation period for COVID-19, there should be a decrease in the number of cases after a week of reduced interpersonal contact. If the overall number of cases starts to drop, it will be an indication the restrictions are working, added Chuang.
However, if case numbers continue to increase after the five to seven-day incubation period, it means there are still cases in the community that were not quarantined in time. These may have infected family members living in the same residence or others they had recently come in contact with, forming a chain of transmission.
Chen said that in addition to the three key indicators, it is also necessary to observe whether the sources of cases have converged. He said these are also points of reference but that the epidemic is developing rapidly, and it is difficult to predict the future situation based on one or two days of data.
By the end of this week, 14 days will have passed since the Level 3 guidelines were put in place in Taipei and New Taipei. By then, there should be more information with which to better predict the overall trend, he stated.
Data from the rapid screening stations in Taipei, New Taipei, and Taichung has started to stream in, and the CECC on Sunday began listing the positivity rates for different cities. May 15 recorded the highest positive rate overall — at 6.3 percent for the country.
On that day, Taipei reached a positivity rate of 10.5 percent. By May 19, it had dropped down to 4.4 percent but rose to 5.6 percent on May 20, 6.9 percent on May 21, and 8.8 percent on May 22.
As for New Taipei, the positivity rate mainly hovered around 4 percent from May 17 to 22. Its lowest point was 2.7 percent, but it started to rebound on May 22.
Chen pointed out that the positivity rate at rapid testing stations in other cities and counties is relatively low. He concluded that the risk to the community in those areas is less than in Taipei and New Taipei.
When asked by the media on Sunday if the Level 3 alert would be extended after it reaches its end date on May 28, CECC Deputy Chief Chen Tsung-yen (陳宗彥) said that it would be extended until June 8. However, he quickly backtracked and said that he needed to confirm that date.
A few minutes later, he said the Level 3 warning is officially in place until May 28 and that the CECC will later make a determination on whether to change or maintain it based on the epidemic situation.
Also on Sunday, Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) announced that all 20 hospitals with emergency rooms in the city would open rapid testing stations on Monday (May 24). Such testing stations across the city will provide a better picture of the extent of infections and may influence the CECC in its decision to raise, lower or extend the current alert level.