TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – The task force responsible for Taiwan’s COVID-19 response has acknowledged that the island could have done better in fighting the disease after 12 families who had lost relatives to the pandemic filed a claim for financial compensation from the government .
The families claim that the authorities were insufficiently prepared, despite the fact that there were few cases for more than a year, resulting in unnecessary deaths and suffering.
Taiwan managed to largely keep the coronavirus out for nearly a year and a half, with 1,199 cases and 12 deaths on May 10. The virus then swept across the island, propelled by the contagious alpha strain, and Taiwan has now recorded 16,516 cases and 848 deaths.
Asked about the families’ claim, the Central Epidemic Command Center said the island’s initial success in keeping the virus out meant it didn’t have enough COVID-19 tests to detect it.
“Taiwan has been effective in sealing its borders, but there is still room to improve its defenses within its borders,” it said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Because past pandemic response measures were appropriate, large-scale COVID-19 testing was not required, and the surveillance system was unable to detect asymptomatic carriers. In addition, the willingness of the public to be vaccinated was low.”
Lawyers representing the families last week filed a request for national damages with both the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which oversees the Central Epidemic Control Center, and the Executive Yuan, Taiwan’s cabinet.
A statement from the Executive Yuan on Thursday expressed condolences but took no position on compensation.
“The government expresses its condolences on the deaths of the families, and as for the legal process for seeking compensation, the Executive Yuan respects their request and will require the responsible authorities to follow the law and provide assistance accordingly,” it said. the.
Family members say that at the height of the outbreak, their loved ones had no access to drugs like the antibody treatments widely used in the US and elsewhere to prevent cases from getting more serious.
When the outbreak was at its peak in mid-May, the island had no antibody treatments and only 1,800 units of Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, according to the Central Epidemic Control Center. Both are used to treat COVID-19.
Still, it largely defended its response by saying it had put in place many checks. “We were able to suppress large-scale community spread and accelerate the procurement of vaccines and vaccinations,” it said.
The task force did not respond when asked whether it had decided to buy antibody drugs before the May outbreak.
The families also said that drugs such as Remdesivir should not be used on a large scale and that doctors had to ask permission from central health authorities to use it.
The Epidemic Control Center said it looked at which drugs are approved for emergency use in 10 of the most developed countries — including U.S. government guidelines, expert opinions and research data — before adding antibody treatments to their treatment guidelines for physicians in early June.
The US FDA approved the emergency use of one antibody treatment in November 2020 and another in February this year.
Taiwan is now registering new daily cases in single digits and has enough Remdesivir on hand to treat about 11,000 patients and antibody treatments for 4,700 people.