Is Taiwan learning to live with COVID? | Asia | In-depth news from across the continent | DW

Taiwan has seen a surge in domestic COVID-19 cases since it began abandoning its “zero COVID” strategy last month. On Thursday, the island reported more than 90,000 local cases in a single day, the first time since the pandemic began.

More than 99% of cases are considered mild or asymptomatic, despite an exponential increase in infections last month.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare said on May 19 that the virus was spreading widely at the community level and authorities expected the outbreak to peak around the end of the month. The current outbreak is caused by a more contagious variant of omicron.

The Ministry of Health announced in a statement that Taiwan is turning to coexist with the virus, and the government will continue to strike a balance between risk management and ensuring health services are maintained. As authorities ease some epidemic regulations, they are still urging at-risk groups to get vaccinated. Taiwanese officials describe the new policy as a “new Taiwan model.”

‘Evolving’ COVID-19 policy sparks confusion

In the past few weeks, Taiwan has reduced the number of quarantine days for incoming tourists to seven. The island has also made several adjustments to its quarantine policy for individuals who test positive and their close contacts.

The change in COVID-19 policy has created a slew of confusion and confusion, especially for those who have tested positive.

On May 5, authorities revised the definition of confirmed COVID-19 infection, expanding it to include people who have been quarantined at home after testing positive through a rapid test. Those who test positive through the rapid test must schedule an online medical consultation with a doctor to officially announce their positive test result.

However, several people told DW that the official software used to schedule medical meetings either crashed or did not show clinics or hospitals offering such services, much to the dismay of many. Patients said they had to leave home isolation and queue outside hospitals for more than an hour for PCR tests before officially reporting cases to the government.

Yang, a marketing professional in his early 30s, is one such patient.

“To meet the criteria for a confirmed case, I ended up having to wait in line for a PCR test at the hospital,” she said, adding that some older adults have completely given up on complying with government COVID-19 reporting rules because of their complexity.

“The constant changes in policies and standards confuse a lot of people with COVID,” she said. “It feels like the government really doesn’t have a comprehensive plan and they’ve been trying to keep up with the changes in the pandemic.”

For Chen, the government’s changing COVID-19 policies are increasing the pressure on patients.

“After being tested positive, we had to work on the isolation criteria while trying to book a PCR test online…it was stressful for someone who was already sick,” she admits.

He Meishang, a researcher at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, believes the confusion was caused by the government’s failure to clearly communicate its policy direction. “When the government doesn’t clearly tell the public whether they’re going to stick to a zero-coronavirus policy or pivot to living with the virus, people won’t know what rules to follow,” she explained.

shortage of medical staff

There have also been reports of shortages of medical staff in hospitals in recent weeks. After the head of the Taiwan Nurses Association revealed that some frontline nurses would have to stay in hospitals to care for COVID-19 patients despite their own testing positive, Health Minister Shih-Chung Chen announced on Wednesday that the island was suffering from a shortage of medical staff. But the health minister did assure the public that the hospital would regularly monitor the health of its staff.

Nurse Chang said some furloughed nurses have been called back to work to support the influx of COVID-19 patients due to infections among medical staff.

“As the workload of most medical staff continues to increase, I worry that the quality of medical care will suffer,” Zhang said.

a victim of his own success

Chi Chunhui, director of the Center for Global Health at Oregon State University and a former adviser to Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration, said Taiwan “is not ready to face an outbreak of this magnitude.”

“One of the blind spots for countries that have long pursued zero Covid-19 is when they start to abandon this policy,” he told DW.

Chi said that, based on the experience of other countries, Taiwan’s health authorities should have expected an exponential increase in the number of cases.

“Originally, Taiwan still sent all mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients to government-run isolation facilities in March, but if they had introduced recent policies at that time, they could have eased the pressure on hospitals and isolation facilities ,” he said.

“Taiwan’s quarantine policy … basically changes every one to two weeks,” he added.

According to Chi, Taiwan still relies on strategies from the early days of the pandemic to control the outbreak.

“Because of the early success, Taiwan believes that all the lessons learned from SARS can be applied to the current outbreak. However, the experience of Western countries shows that outbreaks caused by omicron mutations will grow exponentially in a very short time,” he said. explained. “That’s why their policies seem to be behind the development of the outbreak.”

Chi said Taiwanese authorities want to avoid overburdening hospitals, but don’t want to let the epidemic “drag out for too long.”

“Based on the experience of Europe and the United States, the epidemic curve only starts to flatten when at least 40% to 50% of the population is infected with the virus. So far, the number of confirmed cases in Taiwan is still too high. It is still far from this target, so it is The dilemma facing the Taiwan authorities,” he said.

Editor: Sou-Jie van Brunnersum

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