CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan confirms first domestic Omicron cases

Two COVID-19 cases reported in late December have been recategorized as domestically transmitted cases, making them the first domestic Omicron variant infections in Taiwan, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Monday.

The two cases were part of what the CECC is now calling a three-case cluster involving Taiwanese nationals who returned to Taiwan between Dec. 14 and Dec. 22 from China, the United States, and Japan.

All of them were guests at a quarantine hotel in Taipei's Zhongzheng District, and their stays overlapped for four days. They tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 28 and Dec. 30 while still in quarantine.

Based on their test results, the CECC has concluded that the person who had been in the U.S. likely infected the ones who had traveled from Japan and Shenzhen in China, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung (???) said at a press briefing.

Their travel history also contributed to the CECC's conclusion. When the three individuals arrived in Taiwan, the U.S. had already reported thousands of Omicron variant infections.

Japan, on the other hand, had only reported 32 imported cases of the variant, and Shenzhen has yet to record any Omicron cases to date, Chen said, and it was therefore unlikely the two who traveled from Japan and China had Omicron infections when they arrived in Taiwan.

The CECC is not yet certain how the virus spread in the hotel, but environmental contamination and airborne transmission are considered as possibilities, according to Chen.

A total of 80 people who were listed as contacts or possible contacts in the cluster have been tested. A total of 79 tests have had negative results, and the result of the other test remains pending, he said.

The Omicron cluster is the third cluster infection at a quarantine hotel Taiwan has reported since the start of December. The first two clusters, both involving the Delta COVID-19 variant, were detected in hotels in Taipei and Taoyuan, with nine cases in total recorded.

Another potential cluster infection at a quarantine hotel in Taipei, involving two cases, was reported by the CECC on Sunday, though genome sequencing has not yet been completed to determine whether it is indeed a cluster.

The CECC has instructed local governments to conduct inspections of 465 quarantine hotels as a response to the cluster, and as of Monday, 395 had been inspected, with 100 some hotels ordered to address problems identified, Chen said.

The CECC will also begin to identify rooms in quarantine hotels that have structural issues that may result in disease transmission, and order those rooms to be barred from use, starting with hotels where cluster infections have already occurred, he said.

To date, Taiwan has confirmed 17,095 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began in early 2020, of which 14,438 are domestic infections reported since May 15, 2021, when the country first recorded more than 100 cases in a single day.

Daily domestic case numbers have fallen to mostly single digits or zero, however, since Aug. 15.

A total of 88 Omicron variant infections have been recorded so far, with two listed as domestic cases and the rest imported. Fifty of the patients have had mild symptoms and 38 have been asymptotic.

With no deaths reported Monday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the country remains at 850, with all but 12 recorded since May 15. Taiwan last reported a death related to COVID-19 on Dec. 19, according to the CECC.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel