Taiwan’s COVID-19 infection rate does not justify mass testing: CECC

CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Tuesday there is no need for mass testing for the COVID-19 coronavirus in Taiwan, as the rate of infection so far has been quite low.

Over the past 100 days, some 4.8 million people sought medical attention or reported to health authorities that they had coronavirus-like symptoms, and 60,956 of them were tested, Health Minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) at a press conference on the 100th day since the center was established.

Of the 60,956 people tested, only 429 were confirmed to be infected with COVID-19, Chen said, adding that authorities could not identify the source of infection in only 10 cases.

With an infection rate of around 0.7 percent among those tested and 0.009 percent among those who reported COVID-like symptoms, there is no need to move toward mass testing, as public health experts have been advocating, Chen said.

The situation in Taiwan is different than in countries like South Korea and Italy, where large numbers of infections have been recorded and lockdowns and mass testing became necessary, he said, in an apparent response to a suggestion made two weeks ago by public health experts that testing could be expanded using a rapid diagnostic test.

Taiwan currently uses the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which takes two to four hours to produce results but is much more accurate than the quick test that takes 15 minutes, Chen said.

He said the PCR test allows for precise identification of the COVID-19 coronavirus, while the rapid test looks for antigens or antibodies to the virus.

Another factor related to the issue of mass testing is cost, which so far stands at NT$183 million for the 60,956 PCR tests conducted to date, Chen said.

Assuming that the prevalence of COVID-19 infection in Taiwan is 18 per 10,000 persons, it would cost NT$54 billion to test 18 million people, in order to identify the 32,577 potential asymptomatic carriers, and about 1,797 false negatives could be expected, he said.

On April 13, public health experts in Taiwan issued a call for expanded testing to identify people with COVID-19 antibodies, saying that would allow people to safely go back to jobs where they are needed.

“If people knew their immunity status, then they could go back to normal working lives, especially the much-needed healthcare personnel,” Chen Hsiu-hsi (陳秀熙), vice dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health, said at a press conference in Taipei.

The issue of expanded testing was raised in view of the impact of COVID-19 on offices and businesses that have had to adopt the government’s guidelines on social distancing.

To date, Taiwan has recorded 429 cases of the disease, 343 of which have been classified as imported and 55 as local infections, according to CECC statistics.

Another 31 cases in a cluster from a three-ship Navy flotilla are still being investigated to determine whether they were local or imported infections.

Taiwan on Tuesday reported no new cases of COVID-19 for the third consecutive day and the sixth time this month, according the CECC.

Globally, COVID-19 has infected 3,072,806 people in 184 countries and regions, including 1,000,612 in the United States, 228,460 in Spain, 199,414 in Italy, 196,069 in France and 157,149 in the United Kingdom, with a total of 210,351 fatalities, according to CECC data as of Tuesday.