Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday said that in the midst of havoc wrought by the rapid global spread of the new coronavirus, every step to combat and control the outbreak in Taiwan has been a race against time. The premier expressed his thanks for the entire nation's unity as Taiwan faces severe tests throughout the ongoing developments. Tight cooperation among industry, government and academia has led to the formation of various national epidemic response teams, ready to contribute their specialized skills and expertise in the fight against the virus.
The government is also adopting a more deliberate and careful approach in confronting the situation, staying ahead of future developments and requirements, formulating plans, and preparing for rapid implementation. Ministries and agencies have already finalized secondary legislation based on a special act to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and assist businesses hit by the outbreak. The goal is to ensure public health and economic stability for the people and industries of Taiwan.
The premier's remarks came at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet following an update by the Ministry of Health and Welfare on current developments and government responses to COVID-19.
The impact of the coronavirus has energized the spirit of a united Taiwan, giving rise to a collective consciousness and national identity, said Premier Su. This has earned Taiwan higher international praise for its efforts compared with other countries confounded by the global spread. From the government's tracking of travel histories based on National Health Insurance records and other sources, and the rapid boost in face mask production, to the mask rationing system and now the ability to preorder masks online, Taiwan has been steps ahead of other countries facing similar issues.
In addition, a research team at the National Health Research Institutes achieved gram-level production of the experimental antiviral compound remdesivir on February 19, said the premier. This was followed by the identification of COVID-19 antibodies by Academia Sinica researchers, which will allow for the mass production of rapid-screening kits that can confirm cases within 15 minutes.
Taiwan also took quick action to increase supplies of face masks. Premier Su said that on January 24 orders were issued for the assembly of 60 mask production lines, which all came online by March 5. The nation now has the capacity to manufacture 10 million masks per day.
On February 6 the government began distributing face masks through a network of contracted pharmacies where ID cards were required for purchase. After a full month under this rationing system, today marks the launch of a new mask distribution scheme that benefits from big data analytics and input from many experts. While consumers may still obtain face masks from pharmacies and health bureaus, the new system also provides an online purchase option with nationwide delivery to over 10,000 locations of Taiwan's four major convenience store chains.
In addition, a special taxi fleet was launched last week to transport travelers returning from coronavirus-affected countries who have been ordered to mandatory home quarantine. The government also announced a directive Tuesday to provide monetary compensation of NT$14,000 (US$465) for persons subject to home isolation or home quarantine—as well as for family members who take time off work to provide care—provided no violations are committed for the duration of the 14-day order.
A second evacuation flight carrying Taiwan nationals back from the Chinese city of Wuhan landed early Wednesday morning in Taiwan, Premier Su continued. Three hundred sixty-one citizens were successfully repatriated under strict, high-standard quarantine procedures before being transported collectively to a quarantine site where they are to remain for 14 days. Authorities will follow up on related control measures to help Taiwanese nationals come home safely and in good health.
To prevent large cluster outbreaks like those at nursing homes in the U.S. and at an apartment building in South Korea, Taiwan will draft contingency response plans containing proactive and anticipatory measures. This is in addition to a raft of guidelines and recommendations already put out by the Central Epidemic Command Center. In the event of an outbreak, Taiwan will be able to respond swiftly to contain the virus and prevent further transmission.
Premier Su also brought attention to coronavirus concerns at transmission hotspots and large events such as the nation's prisons, military bases, and the upcoming Tomb Sweeping Day holiday. He ordered officials to make plans for separating the flow of people and for segregating inmates and soldiers to minimize the risk of cluster infections. For instance, the Ministry of the Interior has instructed local governments not to organize religious events of more than 1,000 people for the tomb sweeping festival. The Ministry of Justice also conducted a simulation drill Monday to test the operational readiness of prisons to deal with various contagion scenarios.