Taiwan’s Health Minister says Covid-19 cases have not ‘exploded’

After months of keeping the pandemic under control, Taiwan is dealing with a surge in domestic infections.
After months of keeping the pandemic under control, Taiwan is dealing with a surge in domestic infections.PHOTO: AFP

TAIPEI - Taiwan’s health minister has assured the people that Covid-19 had not "exploded" as figures showed the number of the locally-transmitted cases on the island hit 721.

The Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) said on Saturday (May 22) the figure included 400 cases from the past week whose test results were backlogged.

This was the first time that the CECC had included figures retroactively.

Due to the large number of people getting tested, screening stations set up across infection hot spots in northern Taiwan were swamped and many test results did not become available until recently, the CECC said.

The island has had to deal with a surge in infections after keeping the disease under control for months.

As at Saturday, the number of confirmed cases stood at 3,862, of which 2,701 – 94 per cent – were community transmissions, with most reported between May 11 and 22. 

Despite the numbers, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung, who heads the CECC, said it was "not time to raise the alert to Level 4 yet".

A Level 4 alert would result in a lockdown that bans all activities aside from essential services, which include security and health services.

Since Wednesday, the island has been under Level 3 alert, which requires people to wear masks once they leave their residences and prohibits any gathering of over five people indoors and 10 outdoors. 

Mr Chen also noted that the highest proportion of positive test results, 6.3 per cent, was reached on May 15 and has since gradually fallen to between 2.2 and 2.9 percent. 

The spike in Covid cases in Taiwan has led to the scrapping of a travel bubble with Palau, some seven weeks after its launch.

The Taiwan government has also moved to clamp down on those spreading false information, announcing fines of up to NT$3 million (S$143,000) for causing unnecessary panic. 

Meanwhile, China’s Shanghai-based Fosun Pharma group has said it would be willing to provide Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to Taiwan, which has been struggling with a shortage of stocks while rushing to manufacture its own. 

"Fosun wants to provide vaccination services for the Taiwanese compatriots. Since last year, we've been actively moving towards providing this vaccine to Taiwan through various channels," said Fosun CEO Wu Yifang.

The surge in new infections has revived interest in vaccinations among Taiwanese as concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine - the only one available on the island now - recede.

Stocks of AstraZeneca are running out fast but President Tsai Ing-wen, in an effort to address fears about vaccine supplies, has assured the people that new stocks will be arriving on time in July.