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Taiwan should rethink zero-COVID policy: Epidemiologist

Central Epidemic Command Center chief says Taiwan will continue zero-COVID strategy

Ho Mei-shang

Ho Mei-shang (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An epidemiologist on Saturday (Feb. 12) called for Taiwan to reconsider its zero-COVID policy, which she says is unlikely to succeed long-term.

Despite the continued spread of COVID-19 worldwide, many countries have gradually opened their borders and dropped restrictions. However, the head of Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center, Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), said on Feb. 8 that Taiwan will continue to pursue a zero-COVID approach.

Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉), an epidemiologist at Academia Sinica who has also worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote on Facebook Saturday that in South Korea and Taiwan, data show the percentage of confirmed Omicron cases who have been asymptomatic to be 47% and 46%, respectively. This indicates that for every local case with no known source, there is an asymptomatic case somewhere in the community, she said.

Despite disease prevention personnel’s contact tracing and quarantine efforts, which are mainly focused on preventing rapid transmission associated with detected cases, it’s very difficult to trace infections stemming from a case with mild or no symptoms, Ho stated. For this reason, Taiwan should phase out a zero-COVID strategy and adopt a pragmatic approach, as the current one is ineffective and has a very low chance of success, she continued.

She emphasized that the authorities should gradually consider allowing the virus into the country and plan how to minimize the damage with manageable community transmission so that the country can have a chance to reach the end game of the pandemic. Otherwise, Taiwan will continue to be a bubble of epidemic prevention that could burst and lose control at any time, she added.

Ho said Taiwan is facing the final and most crucial stage of COVID. Taiwan should rehearse minimizing the damage in case it loses control of the COVID situation as restrictions are gradually lifted, and Taiwanese need to mentally prepare to accept a certain degree of unavoidable risk, she advised.