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Taipei may impose 'soft lockdown' if cases reach 'certain level': Mayor

Ko predicts 500,000 Taipei residents could be infected with COVID by May 18

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Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je. 

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Tuesday (April 26) estimated that the total number of COVID cases in the city could reach 500,000 by May 18 and that a "soft lockdown" may be necessary if a "certain level" of infections is reached.

With 1,302 COVID cases reported in Taipei on Tuesday, Ko predicted that if no action is taken and home isolation periods are continually shortened, the daily number of cases in the capital could reach 5,000 by May 4 and 10,000 by May 7. Ko then warned that based on a model developed by the city, if no measures are taken to contain the outbreak total cases could climb to 500,000 by May 18.

Ko said he has continually asked the central government how many daily cases are within a tolerable range, without receiving a response. As for Taipei, Ko said that once the daily case count hits 5,000, it will be difficult to implement PCR testing because this would require a 10-fold increase in tests.

The mayor said that to detect 5,000 daily cases, 50,000 tests would need to be administered each day. Likewise, detecting 10,000 cases would require 100,000 PCR tests per day.

Ko expressed concern that if the number of infections continues to soar, stocks of PCR test kits will run out, resulting in many cases going undetected. If the number of cases continues to mount, Taiwan may need to adopt other countries' approach of "no epidemiological investigations and no contact tracing," with only the severely ill being sent to the hospital.

Ko said the worse case scenario would be 10,000 cases per day, making it impossible to carry out epidemiological investigations or contact tracing. "It is difficult to process 10,000 people, so when the number reaches a certain level, we are forced to deal with clinically severe cases and leave the rest alone."

Ko said what can be done now is try to ensure hospitals have at least enough free beds for patients when they arrive. He stated that the next week will be a critical period but pointed out that Taipei, New Taipei , Keelung, and Taoyuan are all interconnected.

It will be impossible for each city to implement its own policies, he said, adding that they should instead work together on adjusting their epidemic prevention strategies as cases surge.

In addition, Ko said that if case numbers reach a "certain level," a "soft lockdown" may be necessary to reduce activities in the city. Ko said the Taipei City Government believes the situation still needs to be monitored and that there is no plan yet to prohibit indoor dining.

The mayor said that in order to preserve its capacity for medical treatment and epidemic prevention, Taipei has begun to expand the scope of its "rapid screening instead of isolation" policy.

Under this policy, medical personnel must receive three doses of COVID vaccines. After getting approval from the health department, they can replace home isolation with rapid screening. "We must ensure that epidemic prevention fighters stay on the battlefield as much as possible," said Ko.