TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As scientists rush to develop treatment and vaccines for the Wuhan coronavirus, a team of Taiwanese scientists has developed the country's first self-produced antigen for the virus in 10 days.
A research team at Academia Sinica completed gene synthesis and entered the stage of antigen production within 10 days, a process that usually takes six weeks, reported Liberty Times. Academia Sinica said that with the new antigen in hand, it can begin testing for antibodies and can also aid in the development of a vaccine and drugs to treat the disease.
The antigen could not come at a moment too soon as it was quickly put to use to confirm whether a suspected carrier of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) had indeed been infected. In order to test whether the first person to die from the disease in Taiwan had contracted it from a Taiwanese businessman who had recently returned from China's Zhejiang Province, The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced on Feb. 16 that it would entrust National Taiwan University Hospital and Academia Sinica to carry out the antibody tests.
If the businessman had been infected, they would be able to use the antigen to test for antibodies for the virus in his system. On Thursday (Feb. 20), the CECC announced that after two unit tests, the businessman did indeed have antibodies for COVID-19, confirming that he was the source of infection of the deceased limousine driver.
After being tasked with testing for antibodies, Academia Sinica President James C. Liao (廖俊智) immediately convened relevant research teams on Feb. 17. Four research teams reportedly worked together to conduct the antibody test, with Lin Yi-ling (林宜玲), a researcher at the academy's Institute of Biomedical Sciences, calling for the use of the western blot method.
One of the three samples taken from the businessman responded to SARS and COVID-19. Based on the experimental results and after discussing the matter with National Taiwan University (NTU) Executive Vice President Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳), the scientists came to the conclusion that one of the samples had tested positive for COVID-19, according to the report.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's Aviation Police Bureau said Thursday (Feb. 20) that the country has seen an increasing number of fugitives returning from China since the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak began.
Hsiu-min Lin (林秀敏), deputy chief of the Taoyuan District Prosecutors Office, pointed out that the airport police have arrested 12 wanted suspects at Taipei Taoyuan International Airport in the month of February alone. She added that many of them had been hiding for years in China, Hong Kong, and Macau to avoid investigation.
Lin said that the authorities had been surprised to capture a man whose statute of limitations period was set to run out in a few months. The fugitive explained to the police that the coronavirus epidemic in China was getting out of control and that he would rather risk coming back to Taiwan than contracting the disease.
Since the returning fugitives are considered potential COVID-19 carriers, Lin said that face-to-face interrogations have been replaced with a video chat alternative to prevent direct contact between the individuals involved. She added that a special interrogation area has also been set up for those accused of more serious crimes.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Violators of Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) quarantine measures who visit crowded locations or take the MRT will soon face up to two years in prison or a fine of NT$2 million (US$65,950) if they put others at risk of infection, according to a package of special measures proposed by the Cabinet Thursday (Feb. 20).
Taiwan has so far recorded 24 cases of coronavirus, including one death. On Thursday, the government presented a new list of measures ranging from subsidies to sanctions. The latter included maximum prison sentences of five years or fines of up to NT$5 million for hoarding coronavirus prevention items such as masks.
Those spreading damaging false information about the outbreak would face jail terms of up to three years or maximum fines of NT$3 million.
Citizens who break coronavirus quarantine by smoking in a hallway outside their home, for example, could be fined a maximum of NT$1 million, but if they visit crowded places and take public transportation, they would be subject to prosecution under the penal code, with a maximum fine of NT$2 million or a jail term of up to two years, officials explained.
The Cabinet proposals, the subsidies and benefits of which total NT$60 billion, still needed to win the approval of the Legislative Yuan and are expected to remain in force until the end of June 2021.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's Bureau of Animal and Plant Health Inspection and Quarantine (BAPHIQ) announced Wednesday (Feb. 19) that live pigs and pork products from Italy will no longer be permitted into the country.
The bureau said that the decision was made after officials conducted "a rolling assessment of the international outbreak of African swine fever (ASF)." It pointed out that there are signs suggesting the ASF epidemic is escalating on the Italian island of Sardinia and that the bureau has decided not to risk importing pork from the European country.
The BAPHIQ added that travelers are not allowed to bring undeclared Italian pork products into Taiwan and warned that any individuals violating the regulation will be issued an NT$200,000 (US$6,629) fine for their first offense and an NT$1 million for their second. The bureau said it will lift the ban once Italy is declared clear of ASF.
Although the ban was primarily aimed at preventing ASF from spreading to Taiwan, many netizens and political experts suspect that it was payback for the Italian government suspending flights from Taiwan until April 28 due to Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) fears. Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) has expressed disappointment in Italy's decision to follow information provided by the World Health Organization listing Taiwan as a province of China.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on Wednesday evening (Feb. 19) reported one more case of novel coronavirus (COVID-2019), bringing the country's total cases to 24.
The patient, a 60-year-old woman with no history of overseas travel in the past two years, developed a fever and cough on Jan. 22. She visited local clinics four times between Jan. 22 and 29, but her symptoms only got worse. She was initially diagnosed as having pneumonia on Jan. 30 and was admitted to a hospital in northern Taiwan.
However, she later experienced more severe symptoms. On Feb. 10, the woman was transferred to an intensive care unit, and eight days later she tested positive for the Wuhan virus after the CECC expanded coronavirus testing for individuals with influenza-like illness even if they have no recent history of travel.
The CECC said the patient is being treated in a negative-pressure isolation ward, and it is currently investigating how the virus was transmitted to the woman.
Since confirming its first case of the coronavirus, a Taiwanese businesswoman returning from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, on Jan. 21, the total number of cases has reached 24, with 16 being imported. Three were Chinese tourists; six had recently been working or traveling in Wuhan; and four were members of a family that had traveled to Italy and transited in Hong Kong.
Most of the indigenous cases are suspected of contracting the virus from infected family members.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – A magnitude 4.3 earthquake struck Nantou County in central Taiwan at 7:55 p.m. Wednesday (Feb. 19).
The latest quake’s epicenter was located in the town of Puli, 33.5 kilometers northeast of the Nantou County Government, according to the Central Weather Bureau. The tremor struck at a depth of 16.3 kilometers.
The quake registered an intensity of 3 on Taiwan’s 7-point scale at Mount Hehuan, a popular tourist destination and one of the rare spots in Taiwan where locals can witness snowfall.
Nantou County was at the center of one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent Taiwanese history, when more than 2,400 people were killed in the wake of a magnitude 7.3 tremor on September 21, 1999.
Company in central Taiwan put into quarantine after employee’s family infected with Wuhan coronavirus
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A company in Taichung City instructed all of its employees to quarantine themselves at home until Mar. 1 because a family member of a company employee is confirmed to have contracted COVID-19, United Daily News (UDN) reported on Tuesday (Feb. 18).
Meanwhile, Taichung’s Environmental Protection Bureau dispatched a truck on Tuesday morning to disinfect the area surrounding the company, according to the report. Bureau personnel in full protection gear carefully sprayed disinfectant all over the area, including on lawns in the vicinity, the report said.
The bureau was cited by the news outlet as saying that information related to infections within the company is to be issued by the central government. The bureau added that the company, which has 50 to 60 employees, has complied with quarantine requirements by suspending operations and that all the employees are now quarantining themselves at home.
The bureau also said that the Taichung City Government will continue to monitor the condition of all the employees.
Later Tuesday, the Central Epidemic Command Center confirmed that all 58 employees had tested negative for the virus.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Workers furloughed due to the impact of the Wuhan virus will receive up to NT$18,960 (US$629) a month in subsidies, according to Taiwan’s labor authorities.
The Ministry of Labor (MOL) is slated to publish an amended version of a “recharge program” on Friday (Feb. 21) aimed to provide financial assistance to laborers who are forced to curtail their work hours or take unpaid leave as a result of the economic ramifications of the outbreak.
Affected individuals are invited to participate in training courses conducted by the government, with registration running from Feb. 21 through Aug. 31. Participants will be paid NT$158 per hour, the statutory minimum wage, and each individual can enlist in a maximum of 120 hours of training.
The classes will be held until the end of this year. Interested employees are advised to call the hotline at 0800-777888 or visit the TaiwanJobs website.
Businesses across the board are feeling the impact of the virus. Companies spanning the accommodation, manufacturing, and construction industries are filing applications requesting that their furlough measures be granted.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Media outlets in Honduras report that a Honduran woman is suspected to have contracted the Wuhan coronavirus while traveling in Taiwan.
The 52-year-old woman arrived in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa on Tuesday (Feb. 18) after flying from Taiwan. Although health authorities have not confirmed that she contracted the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), she is currently undergoing testing for the disease.
The Honduran newspaper La Prensa reported that the woman had gone on vacation in Taiwan and connected through Los Angeles and El Salvador before boarding Avianca Flight 454 for Tegucigalpa's Toncontín International Airport on Tuesday. She is currently being treated as a "suspected case," as she presented symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, and sneezing.
In addition, she reported that on Feb. 2, she was on a train in Taiwan with a person with respiratory symptoms, reported Prensa Libre. The woman was referred to the National Cardiopulmonary Institute for laboratory tests, the results of which should be available within the next 24 hours.
Solo Noticias reported that the woman had started her trip to Asia in early January and that she had also stopped in Shanghai and Singapore. Passengers who took Avianca Flight 454 have been placed under a 14-day quarantine and are being monitored by Honduran health authorities.
Honduras is one of Taiwan's few remaining diplomatic allies in Central America. Neighboring El Salvador cut ties with Taiwan in favor of China in September of last year.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced a new rationing system on Monday (Feb. 17), adding an additional 200 adult-size surgical masks and 150 child masks for each drugstore and district-level public health center nationwide beginning Thursday (Feb. 20).
By then, 400 adult-size masks and 200 child-size masks per day will be distributed to each outlet.
However, the weekly quota for each National Health Insurance (NHI) card-holder and expatriate aged over 12 remains at two, with four for children aged under 12 under the new system. Expatriates in Taiwan can purchase masks with their passports or Alien Resident Certificate (ARC).
Those whose ID number ends with odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) are restricted to purchasing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays; while those whose number end with even numbers (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) will be limited to buying masks on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with both allowed to make purchases on Sundays. The rationing controls also apply to expatriates. People on visitor visas are not allowed to buy the masks.
The price for each mask is NT$5. In the case of those purchasing for multiple family members or friends, each person can only make purchases with one additional NHI card at a time.
Demands for child-size surgical masks grew exponentially over the past week as elementary and junior high schools set to reopen on Feb. 25. Many parents scrambled to find masks for their school kids but to no avail as there are only 50 child-size masks allocated for each drugstore under the existing rationing system.
Meanwhile, the quota for medical workers at hospitals nationwide remains at 1.7 million masks combined per day this week.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs pointed out that mask production has been ramped up significantly, with a daily capacity increased by 1.3 million units to 5.5 million in a week thanks to the newly-added production lines as well as manpower from the military. The official is expecting daily capacity to reach 10 million units in early March upon the arrival of necessary new equipment.