Taiwan prepares for long battle against new coronavirus

Premier Su Tseng-chang enters the epidemic response command center on Jan. 29, 2020. (CNA)
Premier Su Tseng-chang enters the epidemic response command center on Jan. 29, 2020. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) issued instructions to relevant agencies in preparation for the long battle to contain a new form of coronavirus during a cabinet meeting Thursday, the Executive Yuan said in a press release.

During the meeting, which was not open to the media, Su was briefed by officials from the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) on current developments and the responses of government agencies to the health crisis caused by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), according to the press release.

Su instructed related agencies and local governments to prepare for a “medium to long term battle” against the virus by adopting four measures: readying supplies, establishing emergency response centers, formulating standard operating procedures on virus source tracing, and the prevention of transmission within medical facilities, public transportation, schools and other public arenas.

Heavy penalties will be meted out to anyone who conceals their medical, contact and travel history or violates quarantine, Su warned, as he pointed out that Taiwan is particularly vulnerable to the virus due to its geographical proximity to China.

Concrete measures to prevent the spread of 2019-nCoV include stricter border controls, Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), Deputy Director-General of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said during a press conference after the cabinet meeting.

A temporary ban has been imposed on the entry of Chinese tourists from Hubei Province, where the virus was first detected in December. In addition, mainland Chinese from regions other then Hubei, who were already issued entry permits to Taiwan, will need to postpone their trips to a later date, though Chuang did not offer any further details.

Isolation wards in hospitals across the country are being monitored and a community-based mechanism to trace the contacts of those who contract the virus has been established.

Efforts are also being made to stop fake news and disinformation while those spreading such information face criminal charges, Chuang said.

As of Jan. 29, 65 fake news and misinformation cases were reported to the authorities, with 63 investigated and seven passed onto the Criminal Investigation Bureau. One involving the media was forwarded to the National Communications Commission.

In response to the shortage of medical-grade face masks, Executive Yuan Spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said the government has coordinated with private manufacturers to produce 4 million masks daily beginning Thursday, the first working day after the lunar new year holiday.

The government will purchase the face masks and make them available to the public through major retail outlets across the country, such as convenience stores, at a uniform price, she said.

The government is hoping to increase manufacturers’ production capacity to 4.2 million masks per day by adding more production lines or recruiting more workers, with daily production of 6 million masks the target, Kolas said.

Meanwhile, Cheng Cheng-mount (鄭貞茂), deputy head of the National Development Council (NDC), said during the same press conference that the global health crisis is not expected to seriously impact Taiwan’s economy.

The situation in Taiwan is very different to that in China, Cheng said, pointing out that there are only a few isolated cases in Taiwan compared to a large-scale epidemic in China.

If China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) falls 1 percent due to the epidemic, its impact on Taiwan’s GDP growth is likely to be around 0.29 percent, Cheng said, citing numbers from earlier simulations.

Cheng said Taiwan’s projected GDP growth in 2020 is 2.36 percent to 2.72 percent, with more than half the growth coming from government expenditure.