Taiwan is currently grappling with a severe health crisis as the JN.1 subvariant of COVID-19 spreads rapidly throughout the country. In the past day alone, there have been a staggering 16,484 new infections reported, pushing the total number of cases to unprecedented levels. This surge in cases has put immense strain on Taiwan’s healthcare system, with hospitals struggling to accommodate the influx of patients. Intensive care units are operating at maximum capacity, and healthcare workers are facing burnout as they tirelessly battle the relentless onslaught of the virus.
One of the contributing factors to the increase in cases is the upcoming Chinese New Year or Lunar New Year festivities. As people in Taiwan go shopping and make preparations for the celebrations, there is a higher risk of transmission through gatherings and reunions. This poses a significant threat to controlling the spread of the virus.
The JN.1 subvariant is the dominant strain in Taiwan, accounting for 52 percent of sequenced cases, according to Dr. Guo Hung-Wei, the Director of the Taiwanese CDC Epidemic Intelligence Center. This subvariant is known for its increased transmissibility and potential for severe illness. The elderly population, aged 65 and older, are particularly vulnerable, as 79 percent of reported cases involve individuals in this age group.
In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, Taiwan is also experiencing a spike in flu cases. Last week, there were 40 severe flu complications and eight flu-related deaths, including the tragic loss of a three-year-old girl due to respiratory failure. This highlights the vulnerability of children to severe complications from infections. Health authorities are urging the public to prioritize flu vaccinations to reduce the burden on healthcare facilities.
In response to the escalating crisis, the CDC has issued an urgent call for vigilance and vaccination. Deputy Director-General Philip Lo has warned of an impending peak in both flu-like illness and COVID-19 cases following the Lunar New Year holiday. The arrival of a new batch of Novavax’s vaccine has been announced, and citizens are encouraged to get vaccinated. Community engagement and public awareness campaigns are also being conducted to address vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.
To prevent further spread of the virus, the Taiwanese government has distributed over 580,000 packs of free COVID-19 rapid test kits at international airports and harbors. Free test kits will also be provided at specific harbor locations due to the expected influx of travelers before the Lunar New Year. Hospitals are being offered subsidies to ensure medical support during the holiday and to incentivize them to prioritize the provision of care for respiratory infection diseases.
A seroprevalence study conducted last year revealed a stark revelation, suggesting that at least 90 percent of Taiwan’s population has likely contracted COVID-19. However, Taiwanese CDC officials emphasize the importance of vaccination, as prior infection does not guarantee lifelong immunity. They urge the public to prioritize enhanced protection through vaccination.
As Taiwan faces this unprecedented health crisis, solidarity and collective action are crucial in overcoming the challenges posed by the pandemic. Health authorities are working tirelessly to contain the spread of the virus, protect the healthcare system, and safeguard the population’s health and well-being. With concerted efforts and unwavering determination, Taiwan remains steadfast in its fight against COVID-19.