Crackdown on undocumented caregivers could impact effort to contain virus: CECC chief

Chief Commander Chen Shih-chung, center, speaks at a press conference on Feb. 29, 2020.
Chief Commander Chen Shih-chung, center, speaks at a press conference on Feb. 29, 2020. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) chief said Saturday he is opposed to launching a crackdown on undocumented migrant caregivers at a time when Taiwan’s healthcare workers are already heavily burdened with efforts to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus.

“I disagree with the need to strengthen reporting of undocumented workers at present. For hospitals, it doesn’t matter if one is a documented or undocumented migrant worker or a family member of a patient,” Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said at a press conference.

“What matters to us is whether that person has any questionable travel history, or illnesses, and if he or she knows how to look after the patient,” Chen said.

Although he “of course discourages” the hiring of undocumented caregivers, Chen said stepping up crackdown on these workers at this moment would only create a sudden shortage of people to look after patients and place more strain on healthcare professionals.

“It is a gap that cannot simply be filled by nursing staff, nor is it a reasonable thing to do,” he said, adding that the responsible way is to properly train all caregivers so that they wouldn’t roam around the hospital and risk catching or spreading the disease.

His comments came after an illegal Indonesian caregiver, who tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus on Wednesday, sparked fears that the nearly 50,000 undocumented migrant workers in Taiwan could create a loophole in the epidemic prevention system.

On Friday, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) announced that it has designed a search system in collaboration with the National Immigration Agency to track down undocumented migrant workers in Taiwan and will soon put it to practice.

Tsai Meng-liang (蔡孟良), deputy director-general of the MOL’s Workforce Development Agency, said the system can check the employment or residency status of migrant workers who accompany their employers to seek care at hospitals.

The aforementioned Indonesian caregiver, Taiwan’s 32nd case of coronavirus infection, was hired to help take care of an elderly man in the hospital and was confirmed to have COVID-19 a few days after the man was diagnosed with the virus. The woman was working illegally in Taiwan because she had overstayed her visa.

In response to Chen’s remarks on Saturday, an official from the MOL told CNA they will comply with the CECC’s decision, but will still cooperate with police and immigration agencies for the routine investigation of undocumented workers.

There are 48,545 undocumented migrant workers in Taiwan, with 290 in detention centers as of the end of January, according to National Immigration Agency statistics.