Epidemic response command center set up for coronavirus outbreak

A seafood market in Wuhan, China where 2019-nCoV outbreak was first reported. (Photo courtesy of China News Service)
A seafood market in Wuhan, China where 2019-nCoV outbreak was first reported. (Photo courtesy of China News Service)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan on Monday set up an epidemic response command center to contain the spread of a new type of coronavirus as more cases of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) were confirmed in China and other parts of Asia over the weekend.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), who will head the command center, said it was formed to step up the government’s ability to respond to the 2019-nCoV outbreak and to foster cooperation among government agencies to fight the disease.

The center is also responsible for coordinating Taiwan’s epidemic prevention resources, such as face masks, if necessary.

Taiwan currently has 44 million surgical masks and 1.9 million N95 masks, more than enough to meet demand so far, according to Chou.

At least five hospitals in Taiwan will be equipped with screening kits for the 2019-nCoV as soon as Jan. 22, and there are more than 1,000 beds in negative-pressure isolation wards for use by patients who have, or are suspected of having the disease.

Chou said the latest measures are being implemented at a time when 205 2019-nCoV cases have been confirmed around the world.

China has confirmed 198 of the 205 cases, reporting three deaths and 35 patients in critical condition.

Cases of the virus have also been reported in three other countries — Thailand, Japan and South Korea — over the past week.

The CDC also said Taiwan began implementing more stringent inspection measures for inbound flights from Wuhan, China, starting on Dec. 31, 2019, following the outbreak of 2019-nCoV in the city in mid-December.

Since then, Taiwan has identified four suspected 2019-nCoV cases. Three of them later tested negative, while another, a one-year-old boy, is currently waiting for test results, the agency said.

The boy did not visit Wuhan’s Huanan Seafood City market, the location believed to be where the outbreak first began, it said.

CDC Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said the boy is currently under observation in a negative-pressure isolation ward.

According to the World Health Organization, there is an indication of limited human-to-human transmission of the virus but so far no evidence showing sustained human-to-human transmission.

Limited human-to-human transmission means that people in close contact with an infected person, normally within one meter for 10 or more minutes, have a high risk of contracting the virus, according to Chuang.

Chuang, meanwhile, called on the public to remain calm as the fatality rate of the 2019-nCoV is significantly lower than that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is around 10 percent, and that of Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS), which is about 30 percent.

The CDC urged Taiwanese traveling to Wuhan to avoid contact with animals, animal markets and patients with acute respiratory syndrome.

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