TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Food conglomerate Ting Hsin International has agreed to pay a subsidiary of Uni-President Enterprises NT$170 million (US$5.66 million) in compensation for a supply of tainted cooking oil in a scandal dating back to 2014, reports said Tuesday (Aug. 9).
President Nisshin Corporation had asked for NT$1.035 billion, but after more than five years of difficult court sessions and negotiations, both sides agreed on the new sum.
In a statement Tuesday, the Changhua District Court said that President Nisshin had bought oil products from Ting Hsin between 2012 and 2014 before processing them into products eventually sold to the public by other arms of the Uni-President Group, including the 7-Eleven convenience stores.
As the case for compensation made slow headway through the court due to factors including the difficulty of providing clear evidence, the judge tried to reconcile both parties, which resulted in the settlement reached on Aug. 4, the court said.
The Ting Hsin scandal was one of several controversies hitting Taiwan’s food sector in 2014. Questionable practices uncovered at the time involved the passing off of low-grade imported oil as higher-priced olive oil and the mixing of oil unfit for human consumption into cooking oil products.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan will phase out community PCR screenings for COVID starting Thursday (Aug. 11) as demand declines.
The Central Epidemic Command Center Spokesman Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) said Tuesday (Aug. 9) that about 114 PCR testing sites nationwide will halt services within a month. Local municipalities have reported waning demand and that the move will save the human and medical resources deployed for such facilities.
Individuals with no symptoms and need PCR proof for overseas travel will be required to pay for a screening at medical institutions. The price of a self-paid PCR test ranges from NT$3,000 (US$100) to NT$4,000 for a standard report, reporters quoted Chuang as saying.
Still, people will receive a free PCR screening if they are arrivals at border checks, are subject to contact tracing, or are considered to have such a need by a doctor.
Taiwan started establishing community PCR centers in May 2021 to make the service widely accessible, mainly in hotspots and areas with a high prevalence rate of the virus. The service’s termination cuts the waste on manpower but does not imply COVID will be downgraded to a category 4 communicable disease from 5, Chaung stressed.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Nantou County police are treating the death of a man who worked as an agent for migrant workers as a homicide case as his body showed signs of severe beating.
On Tuesday morning (Aug. 9), the victim’s elder sister found her younger brother, a 61-year-old man surnamed Chang (張), lying in his living room almost lifeless, with his wrists and neck tightly wrapped around by electric wire. The sister immediately called 119 for help.
When Chang was taken to the hospital, he had lost vital signs, and showed signs of injuries around his neck, large bruises on his back, neck and head, and open wounds on his legs, according to a hospital statement. Despite having received emergency care, Chang died later.
The victim’s relatives said that Chang usually kept cash with him, at home, or in his car due to the nature of his work and wore a thick gold necklace, gold rings, and bracelets, but they were all gone. They suspected that the criminal killed Chang for his money.
As police were combing through the scene and collecting evidence, they found signs of a struggle, and are treating the case as a homicide investigation. So far, police said they have no suspects in the case, but will turn to surveillance cameras to try to identify suspects.
According to neighbors of the victim, Chang may have worked as an agent for migrant workers, could speak Vietnamese very well, had a high income, and had many people coming and going from his house frequently.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The numbers of flights to and from Taiwan as well as connecting flights have decreased due to the live-fire military drills the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have been conducting around Taiwan since Thursday (Aug. 4), Taiwan’s Ministry of Transportation and Communications (MOTC) said in a press release on Sunday (Aug. 7).
The MOTC said that it has continued to monitor air and sea movements surrounding China’s military exercise zones and asked the ministry's Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) and Maritime Port Bureau (MPB) to continue guiding aircraft and ships to avoid the temporary danger zones created by the exercise.
According to the CAA’s statistics, there were 369 departure, arrival and connecting flights on Saturday (Aug. 6), which was close to the numbers of flights recorded on the previous two days.
The MOTC said sea transportation has not been much affected by China’s military exercise, with the harbors most affected in Keelung, Taipei, and Kaohsiung.
According to the MPB’s statistics, there were a total of 117 ships entering and 119 ships heading out of the seven international commercial ports around Taiwan on Saturday, which was not very different from the past.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Two men were killed in Pingtung County after a light aircraft crashed on Saturday (Aug. 6).
Reporters reported that the deceased have been identified as 61-year-old Chu (朱) and his 27-year-old son. The cause of the crash has yet to be determined.
The Pingtung County Bureau of Fire and Emergency Services was cited as saying that it received a report about plane crash in Yanpu Township at 5:48 p.m. It immediately dispatched several teams consisting of 12 vehicles and 22 firefighters and rescuers, who put out a fire at the site and found the Chus’ remains.
An unnamed fellow pilot told reporters that the elder Chu, who manufactured parts for remote control models prior to his retirement, had loved flying since his youth and accumulated over 20 years of experience as a pilot. His son only recently joined him in flying.
According to reporters, prosecutors and members of the Transportation Safety Council will investigate the incident.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Sunday (Aug. 7) announced 22,044 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, of which 21,771 were local and 273 were imported, as well as 42 deaths.
The local cases included 9,942 males and 11,824 females between under five and 100 years of age. The genders of five local cases are still under investigation.
Among the local cases, 87 were moderate and severe cases.
Among the 42 reported deaths, 24 were male and 18 were female. They ranged in age between 40 and 100, and all of them were severe COVID-19 cases and had a history of chronic illness. Twenty-five had not taken three doses of COVID-19 vaccines. They were confirmed to have contracted the disease between May 11 and Aug. 4 and died between May 26 and Aug. 4.
The imported cases included 157 males and 116 females. They ranged in age from under five to 80 and arrived between July 7 and Saturday (Aug. 6). Five arrived from Japan, four each from Vietnam and Thailand, three each from the Philippines, the U.K., and Singapore, two each from Australia, Turkey, South Korea, and the U.S., and one each from Malaysia, Cambodia, the United Arab, New Zealand, India, Ireland, and Germany. The origins of the other imported cases are still under investigation.
Taiwan has so far recorded 4,738,861 cases of COVID-19, including 21,756 imported, while 9,229 people have succumbed to the disease.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has rebutted rumors that U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was paid to visit Taiwan this week.
Following the whirlwind trip by Pelosi, the highest-ranking U.S. official to have set foot in the country in 25 years, an article appeared on PTT alleging the government paid a significant amount of money to make the trip happen. PTT is the largest online forum in Taiwan.
According to the article, the Gephardt Group Government Affairs in Washington D.C., a public relations services company, has been lobbying for the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration since 2018 to pull strings in the Pelosi circle.
Taiwan was said to have paid a total of US$3.15 million in 16 commissions between 2018 and 2022.
MOFA on Friday (Aug. 5) denied the allegation, noting the document was fabricated and the signatures were forged. The ministry denounced any “vicious dissemination” of disinformation to slander the government and its visitors.
MOFA said the U.S. government footed the bill for Pelosi’s visit and her itinerary was arranged by the American Institute in Taiwan. The public should not fall for the cognitive warfare waged by external forces, it cautioned.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A number of Taiwan government agencies and infrastructure websites have come under cyberattacks in the past few days and, in some cases, the attacks involved software from China.
The websites or systems of the presidential office, the foreign ministry, the defense ministry, the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, the Taiwan Railways Administration, and the Taiwan Power Company have encountered a spike in attacks since Tuesday (Aug. 2). Some have been identified by the authorities as from China and Russia.
Services for the affected websites have become unavailable temporarily but have resumed quickly as the government agencies and facilities have been put on high alert.
According to digital minister Audrey Tang (唐鳳), Tuesday saw a surge in web traffic for some government websites 23 times the normal rate but the incidents have been addressed in a timely manner. Pelosi arrived on Tuesday night.
A probe into the digital signboards at some 7-Eleven stores and a rail station that were hacked to display anti-Pelosi messages has found Chinese software in the advertising systems run by contracted companies, said the National Communications Commission (NCC), a Cabinet-level regulator on telecommunication affairs.
NCC urged businesses to exercise vigilance when using Chinese software, which could render their systems vulnerable to backdoor attacks.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Tourist numbers on Taiwan’s northeast coast and cargo ship routes into Taipei Port were reported as normal on Thursday (August 4) despite China conducting military drills in waters around the nation.
Wu Zonglin (巫宗霖), director of the Northeast and Yilan Coast National Scenic Area Management Office, said the number of tourists to Fulong has increased significantly in recent weeks. He added the large parking lot in front of Fulong Visitor Center is a good indicator of tourist numbers, CNA reported.
He pointed out that Thursday is a regular weekday but almost 90 percent of the lot has been filled. Wu also said the 2022 Fulong International Sand Sculpture Art Festival will continue until October.
Meanwhile, staff from Taipei Port said that ship traffic and cargo loading and unloading operations were normal. China’s military exercise did not have much of an impact, reporters cited them as saying.
Only a very small number of ships were slightly delayed in arriving at the port because they had to avoid the drill zones China had marked.
Additionally, the Coast Guard Administration said that it was carrying out routine tasks without any issues. The CGA said it is still advising fishermen from getting too close to Chinese military vessels.
China on Thursday afternoon fired 11 Dongfeng into the waters surrounding northern, southern, and eastern Taiwan in waves. The drills came after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan from Aug. 2-3.
Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense (MND) issued a press release at 3:10 p.m. Wednesday, saying that it is using early warning, surveillance, and reconnaissance methods to grasp real-time developments of the drills announced by China. It has activated defense systems and strengthened combat readiness, the MND added.
The defense ministry also condemned China's irrational actions to undermine regional peace.
The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by a highly transmissible and pathogenic coronavirus, which is known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that emerged in China in late 2019, and now has five major variants: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron.
The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted for two and a half years since it was declared as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on January 30, 2020, and has registered about 576.3 million cases and 6.4 million deaths worldwide as of July 31, 2022. In this article, I used COVID-19 statistics reported by OurWorldInData.org to describe pandemic response outcomes.
Deaths from Alpha and BA.2 Omicron outbreaks
First, I used a seven-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 deaths to describe pandemic response outcomes over the past two and a half years in Taiwan. A seven-day rolling average was used to obtain a more stable estimate of daily deaths irrespective of any actual variation of COVID-19 deaths from day to day by OurWorldInData.org.
I, then, used the cumulative number of COVID-19 deaths per million people to compare Taiwan’s pandemic response outcome against the world's and Asia's averages and key Asia-Pacific countries. To account for differences in the population size between different countries, the number of COVID-19 deaths per million people was used to compare statistics between countries by OurWorldInData.org.
Taiwan reported a total of 4.59 million COVID-19 cases and 8,927 deaths as of July 31, 2022. Taiwan has had two major COVID-19 outbreaks so far, the Alpha outbreak from May to Sept. 2021, and the BA.2 Omicron outbreak from May 2022, which is still going on.
The seven-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 deaths ranged from 1.57 on May 23 to 1.29 on Sept. 25, with a peak of 26.29 on June 6 during the 2021 Alpha wave in Taiwan, according to OurWorldInData.org. There were about 830 COVID-19 deaths in four months during this Alpha variant outbreak in Taiwan. The seven-day rolling average of daily COVID-19 deaths ranged from 1.29 on April 30 to 50.71 on July 31, with a peak of 192.14 on June 11 during the 2022 Omicron wave in Taiwan, according to OurWorldInData.org.
There were about 8,000 COVID-19 deaths in 3 months during this BA.2 Omicron variant outbreak in Taiwan. How does Taiwan's pandemic response outcomes compare to other countries? As of July 31, 2022, cumulative COVID-19 deaths were 374.14 per million in Taiwan, which is lower than the world’s average of 809.21 per million, but higher than Asia’s average of 309.62 per million.
Deaths per million among Asia-Pacific countries
As of July 31, 2022, cumulative COVID-19 deaths per million are all lower than the world’s average for 10 major Asia-Pacific countries, Indonesia (573.48), Philippines (533.25), South Korea (483.66), Australia (457.74), Vietnam (442.12), India (373.98), New Zealand (292.8), Singapore (275.05), Japan (261.68), and China (3.67).
Among these 10 major Asia-Pacific countries, cumulative COVID-19 deaths per million in New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and China are all lower than Asia’s average. Regardless of strict control measures, prolonged border controls, and universal mask mandates, Taiwan’s pandemic response outcomes do not match with regional average performance and fall behind several neighboring countries after two and a half years of the pandemic.
Why is the COVID-19 pandemic response outcome in Taiwan higher than Asia’s average and those in New Zealand, Japan, Singapore, and China in terms of cumulative COVID-19 deaths per million? This is mostly due to the around 100 times increase in COVID-19 deaths during this ongoing BA.2 Omicron outbreak in 2022 compared to the Alpha outbreak in 2021.
Taiwan’s cumulative COVID-19 deaths per million surpassed China’s figures on May 28, 2021 during the Alpha outbreak; Asia’s average on June 10, 2022; Singapore’s and Japan’s figures on June 27, 2022; and India's figures on July 31, 2022 for the ongoing BA.2 Omicron outbreak. If Taiwan’s COVID-19 mortality continues to stay at such levels for another month, Taiwan’s cumulative COVID-19 deaths per million will soon match those of South Korea, Australia, and Vietnam.
Why lag behind
What are the reasons for Taiwan’s mediocre performance in containing its COVID-19 deaths in comparison to peer countries in the Asia-Pacific region? One probable explanation is that population immunization status was insufficient to protect Taiwan’s population when the Alpha and BA.2 Omicron outbreaks occurred. The government’s late procurement of effective vaccines led to comparatively low vaccination coverage among the population, especially the vulnerable population of elderly and children, at the beginning of these two outbreaks in Taiwan.
Another possibility is that COVID-19 cases were not fully and timely confirmed by incomprehensive and infrequent disease surveillance during these two outbreaks. Late deployment of community-based active surveillance programs using PCR and ART testing kits led to delayed case findings and timely and proper medical care among infected patients.
The other reason could be attributed to the government's complacency and citizens’ fatigue in COVID-19 response and control measures in this protracted pandemic. Government over-confidence in continuously tightening border controls to fend off intrusion of new variants of SARS-CoV-2 virus to Taiwan, and unpreparedness to loosen non-pharmaceutical interventions have led to fast spread of BA.2 Omicron in the community and into a spike in COVID-19 cases, and eventually turned into high COVID-19 mortality during the BA.2 Omicron outbreak.
Countries with past pandemic experience can usually do better to meet the challenge of new disease outbreaks by putting lessons into pandemic preparedness. Taiwan was able to react quickly to COVID-19 early in 2020 because we learned tragic lessons from the 2003 SARS epidemic. What lessons can we learn from Taiwan’s mediocre performance in containing BA.2 when we are facing the threat of BA.5 in coming months?
Take the right actions against BA.5
The next step of COVID-19 control should take a more aggressive approach that Taiwan has not used before, while maintaining measures that have been effective so far. To achieve the pandemic control goal of low infection and low mortality, I recommend the following effective actions to be taken now to prepare for a probable BA.5 outbreak in the fall and winter of 2022.
First, vaccinating the entire population fully by completing 3-dose vaccines for children and 4-dose vaccines for adults as early as possible. Second, expanding SARS-CoV-2 virus surveillance by conducting PCR testing for children at nurseries, kindergartens, elementary schools, and elderly at long-term care facilities daily; and wastewater in cities and counties weekly; and increasing genomic surveillance among COVID-19 confirmed cases.
Third, providing antiviral treatments to confirmed cases at point-of-care facilities nationwide. Fourth, harmonizing testing, quarantine, and isolation guidelines for confirmed cases, close contact and overseas arrivals by requiring universal PCR/ART testing for 2 weeks to redesign quarantine and isolation duration and location.
Lastly, requirements for masking should remain for indoor public spaces and outdoor crowded gatherings, and building ventilation should be improved to keep indoor CO2 concentrations below 600 ppm for restaurants, gyms, nurseries, long-term care facilities, and hospitals.
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