Virus steps for foreign workers vital: experts

National Taiwan University public health experts yesterday said that all foreign students and workers should undergo a centralized quarantine upon arrival in Taiwan, as well as being tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and departure.

The Central Epidemic Command Center on Monday reported a case of a Thai worker who tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Thailand from Taiwan last week, saying that it could not rule out the possibility that it was a locally acquired case.

National Taiwan University College of Public Health dean Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權) said that following last month’s case of a student testing positive for COVID-19 in Japan after returning from Taiwan and the new case in Thailand, many people are worried about asymptomatic carriers in local communities in Taiwan.

“The cases imply that there is a remaining threat of potential asymptomatic carriers in local communities,” Chan said. “They also tell us that foreign students and workers should undergo a mandatory centralized quarantine, as it would be difficult to do contact tracing if a positive case is confirmed among them.”

“We also believe that foreign students and workers should be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and on their departure from Taiwan,” he said. “Digital contact tracing for these foreign students and workers, who might not have smartphones, should also be improved.”

The center and the Ministry of Labor should have a comprehensive disease prevention plan for migrant workers, including conducting mass testing on all workers at the factory where the Thai patient worked and all their close contacts, as well as moving migrant workers to individual dormitory rooms, and separate the flow of workers in the factory and the dormitory, Chan said.

Other preventive measures should include testing of all foreign workers when they enter and leave Taiwan, conducting safety and hygiene inspections of foreign workers’ working and living environments, and conducting COVID-19 antibody tests on all foreign workers, he said.

College vice dean Tony Chen (陳秀熙) said that data on clustered infections on cruise ships showed the exceptionally high risk of COVID-19 spreading in high-density environments, and the limitations of reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction tests in detecting pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers.

In addition to contact tracing and COVID-19 testing, antibody testing should also be used for members of highly clustered groups, such as migrant workers, to find potential asymptomatic carriers that could become the source of additional local infections, Chen said.

As the influenza season occurs between autumn and spring, both diseases have very similar symptoms and many experts have predicted that the COVID-19 pandemic could get worse in the winter, the government should develop kits that can test for both influenza and COVID-19, Chan said.

He also urged the government to join international research teams developing COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible, or the nation could face problems such as not having priority in purchasing a vaccine once it goes on sale or domestically produced vaccines being unable to obtain international verification.

Written by Lee I-chia
Source: Taipei Times
Published on 29 July 2020
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