Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday said that the government has taken the lead to combat the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus domestically, closely monitoring developments at every stage and responding forcefully as needed. The premier cautioned the public against panic and called on the people of Taiwan to work together for the good of the nation.
The premier's remarks came at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet following a presentation by the Ministry of Health and Welfare on the current status of the outbreak and the government response.
The 11 cases so far confirmed in Taiwan all originated from abroad or via transmission within affected households, and there has been no generalized spread among communities, Premier Su emphasized. Furthermore, a number of patients are on the road to recovery and in good condition, with one even ready to be discharged from the hospital after having cleared all signs of viral infection.
Thanks to experience gained fighting the SARS epidemic nearly two decades ago, the government has been able to respond quickly and flexibly to the serious challenge of the current outbreak, with rapid and continuous adjustment of measures as circumstances change. The premier said that beginning last December, Taiwan took the lead in testing all passengers and crew on incoming flights from Wuhan prior to disembarking. On January 15, the government also officially designated the coronavirus a communicable disease, two full weeks in advance of the World Health Organization's (WHO) declaration of a public health emergency of international concern. This was followed by escalating travel warnings for high-risk areas of China starting on January 16.
Action has also been taken to ensure an adequate supply of face masks, said Premier Su. On January 24 restrictions on the export of masks were imposed, and centralized government distribution adopted. To curb rising prices, the government instituted price controls and is rigorously investigating cases of hoarding. Reserve funds have also been allocated to greatly expand production capacity.
On February 6, a rationing system for mask purchases went into effect in order to maximize the effectiveness of resources and guarantee availability to those in need. By presenting a national health insurance (NHI) card, alien resident certificate or entry permit, people can now purchase masks at over 6,500 NHI-contracted pharmacies throughout Taiwan.
To combat the spread of the coronavirus, the government has postponed the opening of schools nationwide at every level, and suspended the entry of all Chinese nationals into Taiwan. Each of these measures is critical to the effort, the premier said.
Disease control, industry relief and economic revitalization are the three most important steps in the government's response, Premier Su continued. Disease control certainly comes first, but the coronavirus will inevitably have negative effects on industries. He instructed Cabinet ministers and agency heads to assess the possible short, medium and long-term impacts and the areas where assistance is most urgently needed. Officials should also take stock of all available policy tools and resources to formulate appropriate strategies as part of a comprehensive response plan.
In addition to providing prompt assistance and relief to affected industries, the government should also take this opportunity to push the upgrade of Taiwan's industries in line with long-term goals, Premier Su added.
Compared with other countries, Taiwan has the most people-to-people interactions with China but fewer confirmed cases than Japan, South Korea, Thailand or Singapore. Patient recoveries have also been encouraging. All of this is attributable to Taiwan's outstanding NHI program, public health environment, and world-class medical care system. Though not a member of the WHO, Taiwan was also the fourth country in the world to isolate a sample of the coronavirus, attesting to Taiwan's strong fundamental research capabilities and the many industry experts and professionals who have come forward to support and fight alongside the government.
A country of kind and generous people, Taiwan has never failed to extend a helping hand to others. The premier once again called for the nation's inclusion in the WHO. Taiwan is absolutely capable of contributing to global public health and its exclusion could constitute a blind spot in the international response against the outbreak.