Taiwan has reported 12 total cases of COVID-19 linked to a cluster of infections at a northern hospital, leading the country to stiffen some regulations to prevent further community spread.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung announced two new domestically transmitted cases on January 22, both linked to the cluster infection at Taoyuan General Hospital.
Taiwan went over eight months without a locally transmitted case of COVID-19 before a pilot for Taiwan’s EVA Air infected a Taiwanese woman in December. It has reported 12 cases in the hospital cluster since January 12.
On January 19, Taiwan’s government canceled celebrations for the Taiwan Lantern Festival, held annually to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The presidential office has also canceled its Lunar New Year reception, while some city governments have canceled their own lantern festival events.
The Taiwan Railway Administration said it would stop leasing main halls in the country’s train station. It also installed partitions in food court areas and positioned tables further apart.
Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsang said on January 21 that Taoyuan General Hospital had completed a mass evacuation of patients so that hospital buildings could be disinfected by a team of government workers and members of the army’s “chemical warfare” group.
Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center said the next day that all discharged or transferred patients listed as high risk from the hospital must go into quarantine.
The hospital cluster has jolted Taiwan, especially as some of the infections occurred outside the hospital when workers infected their family members.
The country has largely existed in a COVID-free bubble due to a speedy, efficient, and transparent early response, which has led to a high level of trust between government and the population.
The new cluster showed signs of testing this trust. Chen, the health minister, did not initially reveal the location of the cluster, leading to days of speculation among citizens and the media.
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) spokesman Liu Kang-yen on Thursday ripped the opposition Kuomintang (KMT) for “political maneuvering” after KMT magistrates warned against unnecessary travel to Taoyuan, the location of the hospital cluster.
Taoyuan, which is home to around 2.2 million people along with the nation’s primary international airport, has become enveloped in fear of the virus, even as the total case count remains low. “Chemical warfare” army troops have been seen disinfecting the city on a regular basis throughout the week.
KMT spokesperson Chen Wei-chieh said the magistrates were only speaking on behalf of public health and noted Taiwan’s defense ministry has asked military service people to avoid visiting Taoyuan.
Taiwan has reported a total of 881 cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths as of January 22. Only 93 of those cases have been classified as community infections, most of which occurred before April 12, 2020.