Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Victor Wang waves to reporters outside the Legislative Yuan in Taipei on Thursday. Photo: CNA

LUNAR NEW YEAR PEAK: Taiwanese who are in China should get vaccinated and consider returning early, as infection rates are expected to increase, the CECC said

By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter

China faces five major problems once COVID-19 begins spreading there, with a peak in infections likely during the Lunar New Year holidays, Deputy Minister of Health and Welfare Victor Wang (王志生), who heads the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), said yesterday.

Wang wrote on Facebook that according to the center's data, the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in China is worth noting, as the new Omicron subvariants BF.7 and BA.5.2 spreading in China are highly infectious and are more transmissible than the previously dominating Omicron subvariants.

“The virus cannot be eliminated even under China's strict control measures,” he wrote. “Its policy is apparently changing after the 'white paper' movements, so the lockdowns are expected to be loosened, the risk of the virus spreading farther is likely to increase and experience from many countries suggests case numbers will grow exponentially fast in the early stages of an outbreak.”

Wang said China is expected to meet many harsh challenges as COVID-19 spreads.

First, there would be a big effect on vulnerable groups, including elderly people, people with severe comorbidities, unvaccinated people and care home residents.

Second, only a very low percentage of China's population has been infected, so they have almost no natural immunity, he said, adding that the protection provided by China-made vaccines is not ideal, and that vaccine uptake among elderly people is still lower than expected.

Third, it would be difficult for China to prepare enough effective antiviral drugs for its population, and to allocate them efficiently across its vast territory, especially as it faces a rapid increase in healthcare demands, Wang said.

Fourth, when the virus starts spreading, it is expected to reach its peak in about two months, which would be around the Lunar New Year holidays, when people often travel and attend gatherings.

Lastly, although the severity and fatality of Omicron cases is relatively low, China has the largest population in the world, so the expected number of deaths from infection would still be concerned, he said.

Wang recommended that Taiwanese who are in China get vaccinated as early as possible, especially if they are older or have underlying health conditions, and people who need long-term healthcare services should consider returning to Taiwan to avoid delayed overtreatment due to

He also suggested that people planning to travel to China should get an Omicron-adapted bivalent vaccine booster shot before leaving, and pay close attention to the COVID-19 situation in China while assessing their personal conditions for travel.

Separately, the CECC yesterday reported 13,098 new local cases, which is 0.9 percent lower than those reported on Saturday last week. It reported 54 imported cases and 33 deaths.

News source: TAIPEI TIMES