Taiwan faces biggest outbreak since beginning of the pandemic

Taiwan faces biggest outbreak since beginning of the pandemic

Taiwan, which had previously been mostly free of COVID-19, is now facing its worst outbreak since the beginning of the epidemic, with over 11,000 new cases reported Thursday.

Since late March, cases have been on the upswing. In April of this year, the island's central authorities announced that they would no longer maintain a zero-COVID policy like the Chinese government's in which they would centrally quarantine positive cases.

The government is asking people to be quarantined at home if they show moderate to severe symptoms.

The island's health minister, Chen Shih-chung, announced Thursday that they had found 11,353 new cases, along with two deaths. He said that 99.7% of cases in the current outbreak had no symptoms or had mild symptoms during the daily press briefing held by the Central Epidemic Command Center.

Most of Taiwan's 858 COVID 19 deaths came from summer 2021. It had been the island's biggest outbreak of the pandemic until this month.

Taiwan has been relatively lucky throughout the epidemic, but it has also maintained strict border controls with a two-week quarantine on arrival required for all visitors.

Mask wear is universal both outdoors and indoors. Masks are required on public transportation and in places like shops and theaters.

As cases have ratcheted up, people have been scrambling to buy up quick tests with stores selling out in just a few hours. Convenience stores across Taipei were unsure where their next delivery would come from.

Difficulty buying rapid tests is likely due to the government's thought that there are few benefits to mass testing. The health minister said last year that public funds and medical resources could be better used elsewhere.

That changed last year with the outbreak.

The central government said this month it would work with Taiwanese companies that make tests to make sure everyone would have access. A system was introduced that limits each person to buy five tests per trip, as part of a system that will allow them to buy one pack of five tests per trip. Each purchase must be linked to an individual's national ID to make sure there is no stockpiling.

Experts are worried about the 5 million people who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID - 19.

According to Central News Agency, those who didn't complete a full vaccination course are four times more likely to have moderate or severe symptoms than those who have gotten a booster, said Ho Mei-Shang, a vaccine expert in Taiwan who has also worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The elderly and children are the most vulnerable in Taiwan's outbreak. The vaccination rate for people over 75 is 72.5%. In the same age group, only 59.1% received a booster.

The youngest of the society is not protected. Some schools have switched to remote learning based on the number of positive cases each school is reporting. The island is opening vaccine shots to children ages 6 -- 11 next week.

A 2 year old boy died in New Taipei City last week, the youngest victim of COVID 19 in Taiwan. His condition deteriorated rapidly after testing positive in a rare case.

The public should not panic, as Taiwan was better prepared with vaccines and ways to ensure moderate and severe cases would get prompt attention, according to officials.

Chiu Tai-yuan, a lawmaker who runs the Taiwan Medical Association, said we want to tell the public, from the medical world. Last year, the outbreak situation was not like the one we are facing today.