CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan confirms four Omicron cases, bringing total up to 16

Four imported COVID-19 cases previously reported by the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) have been confirmed as Omicron variant infections, the CECC announced Thursday.

The four persons traveled to Taiwan between Dec. 14 and Dec. 19, with two arriving from the United States and two from the United Kingdom.

Passengers who sat near these individuals on their flights to Taiwan have all tested negative for COVID-19, CECC official Lo Yi-chun (???) said at Thursday's daily COVID-19 press briefing.

According to Lo, three of the cases tested positive for COVID-19 upon entry to Taiwan. The fourth tested negative upon arrival, but another test she took during quarantine after developing a sore throat came back positive.

Taiwan reported its first case of the Omicron variant on Dec. 11 and the four cases confirmed Thursday have brought the total in the country to 16. They are all imported cases and tested positive for COVID-19 either upon entry to Taiwan or during quarantine, CECC data shows.

All 16 individuals have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and their cases have been classified as breakthrough infections. On average, they were infected with the disease 4.9 months after their second vaccine dose, Lo said.

The age of these patients skew young; only two are over 50 years old, while the rest are aged 10-40, Lo said.

Nine have experienced mild symptoms and seven have been asymptomatic, Lo said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron as a variant of concern on Nov. 26 and the variant has since been identified in over 80 countries.

In a statement on Dec. 17, the WHO said that it is currently unclear whether Omicron's rapid spread is caused by its ability to evade the human immune system, intrinsic increased transmissibility, or a combination of both factors.

Citing preliminary data from studies conducted in England, Scotland, and South Africa, Lo said Thursday that patients infected with the Omicron variant are 41-80 percent less likely to be hospitalized compared to those infected with the Delta variant of the virus.

The difference in the studies' results is likely due to differing ages and the vaccination status of the studies' sample base, Lo said.

Other studies have shown that Omicron is spreading faster than previous strains of the virus, Lo said, so even though the risk of hospitalization with Omicron is lower, there could still be a surge in people who need to be hospitalized if the virus spreads into the community.

The best way to be protected against the virus is by wearing a mask, washing one's hands regularly, and getting vaccinated, Health and Welfare Minister Chen Shih-chung (???) added, urging people who have not yet gotten the vaccine to do so.

To date, 79.6 percent of Taiwan's population of 23.39 million have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, and 66.3 percent have gotten two doses. An additional 74,765 people have received a third booster shot, according to CECC data.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel