Nine-day wait for Covid-19 test results leaves Taiwan in limbo

TAIPEI (BLOOMBERG) – People suspected of having Covid-19 are waiting up to nine days for a confirmed result in Taiwan, as a backlog at overstretched testing facilities compounds the challenges facing authorities battling a new outbreak.

The number of people seeking Covid-19 tests has sharply increased over the past two weeks, stretching testing facilities that are now struggling to keep up, data from Taiwan’s Centres for Disease Control indicate. That has led to frequent delays between when possible cases are first reported and when results are made available.

Taiwan’s government has decided to report a case based on when a test was taken – rather than when there was a result – leading to daily revisions of total infection numbers in recent days.

While the intention is to keep the data as accurate as possible, it leaves officials with a less-than-perfect overview of how the case curve is developing and whether current virus-related restrictions are having any impact – making formulating effective policy more difficult.

The health ministry reported an additional 302 new confirmed infections and 11 deaths on Wednesday (May 26), bringing Taiwan’s total cases to 4,918 and deaths to 46 since the pandemic began. Officials also added a further 331 backdated cases stretching as far back as May 17. The ministry says the delays are caused by transporting samples, laboratory capacity and reporting of results.

Taiwan is fighting a surge in cases that has both threatened its status as one of the world’s biggest success stories in containing the virus, and underscored how months of relative normalcy have made it less prepared than some other places in Asia to deal with a sudden outbreak.

Authorities have tightened Covid-related restrictions and are scrambling to secure more vaccines, with only enough doses on hand to fully inoculate less than 2 per cent of its 23.5 million population.

A soft lockdown has been imposed over the past weeks, with schools, gyms and bars closed until mid-June and restaurants in Taipei only offering takeout. Offices, public transport and supermarkets remain open.

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