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Taiwan CECC holds last press conference, will shutter on May 1

Taiwan reports first 2 cases of Arcturus Omicron subvariant

Chuang Jen-Hsiang (left), Victor Wang, and Philip Lo laugh at last CECC press conference. 

Chuang Jen-Hsiang (left), Victor Wang, and Philip Lo laugh at last CECC press conference.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — After 960 press conferences held since being activated, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) held its final press briefing on Thursday (April 27)

Over the past 1,198 days, since the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) classified COVID as a Category 5 communicable disease on Jan. 15, 2020, there have been three waves of local outbreaks resulting in 10.23 million people being infected with the virus and more than 19,000 dying from the disease in Taiwan. The quarantine formula has been relaxed from 14+7 to 0+N, nearly all mask mandates have been lifted, COVID will be reclassified as a Category 4 communicable disease on May 1, and the CECC will be disbanded on that date, 1,193 days after it was activated.

At the CECC's last press conference on Thursday, it announced that the average daily number of confirmed severe cases of COVID increased by 99 last week, and 13 people died. Among those deaths, 98% had a history of chronic diseases, 74% had not received three doses of COVID shots, and 94% were over 60 years old.

Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy director general of the CDC, said that 151 cases of Omicron subvariants had been detected last week.

The center also announced the country's first two cases of the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.16, commonly known as Arcturus, but neither was a severe case.

Based on case report trends, medical resource usage, the number of oral antiviral drugs prescribed, and the positive rate of residential institutions, the CECC stated that the epidemic continues to ebb. Regarding the dismantling of the command center, CECC head Victor Wang (王必勝), said that the past three years have been hard work with heavy responsibilities, but he is "honored that the center has stood up to serve the people when it encountered a once-in-a-century pandemic."

As the domestic outbreak steadily declined, the CECC stopped reporting new COVID cases and deaths on March 29. Instead, it changed reporting to once a week based on five key epidemic monitoring indicators presented at a press conference on Thursdays.

Of the 107 local cases, there are 67 cases of BA.2.75, 26 cases of XBB, 8 cases of BQ.1, and 6 cases of BA.5. Based on monitoring conducted over the past four weeks, the main COVID strain seen in Taiwan is still BA.2.75 at 61%, followed by XBB at 25%, and BQ.1 at 7%.

Lo explained that for the first time in Taiwan, two local cases of the subvariant Arcturus were detected in Taiwan. One case is a female in her 70s in northern Taiwan who has a history of high blood pressure and cancer.

She started coughing on March 30 and developed suspected pneumonia symptoms the next day. She was placed in a hospital isolation ward and was administered Remdesivir and steroids for treatment. The other Arcturus case was a woman in her 80s who had chronic lung disease but had mild symptoms.

Lo pointed out that preliminary data and analysis by the World Health Organization showed that the transmission of the new subvariant Arcturus has increased, but has not caused severe illness or increased the proportion of hospitalizations. The risk level has not been adjusted, but Lo said that attention needs to be paid to the existing Omicron mutant strains and the trend of any changes is still being monitored.

The CECC stated that the national COVID outbreak has risen slowly in the past three weeks, but the overall situation is still stable. Most of the complications and deaths occurred in patients with a history of chronic diseases and who had not received three COVID vaccine doses.

The center recommended that the elderly and other high-risk groups for complications be vaccinated and take medication as soon as possible, and called for continued monitoring of the impact on the epidemic situation and the changes in subvariants after the loosening of epidemic prevention measures.

With the normalization of epidemic prevention, the CECC said that future information related to the COVID outbreak will be included in the CDC's regular press conference every Tuesday. The public can still learn about epidemic prevention information through channels such as the CDC's official website, the Taiwan CDC Facebook page, the social distancing APP on Google Play and the Apple Store, and the 1922 epidemic prevention hotline.