The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday reported 96 COVID-19 infections: four domestic and 92 imported cases.
Three of the domestically transmitted cases are bank workers likely linked to previously reported airport clusters, it added.
Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, attributed the high number of imported cases in part to the implementation on Tuesday of a tighter entry policy.
Travelers arriving on long-haul flights are immediately tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and must wait for results of their rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests on site. Those who test negative are allowed to proceed with normal entry procedure, while those who test positive are transported to a hospital in an ambulance.
Among the imported cases, 58 are travelers who arrived on eight long-haul flights on Tuesday and tested positive at the airport, and 34 tested positive during quarantine, Chen said.
The daily number of imported cases confirmed during quarantine is expected to decline in the following days, as many more cases are detected upon arrival under the new policy, he said.
As for the domestic cases, three are workers at a bank in Taoyuan that a previous case — No. 17,472, a personal care aide whose husband (case No. 17,473) is a baggage cart handler at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airpot — had visited.
The other case is a Taipei resident who took a mandatory COVID-19 test before starting work as a caregiver for a hospitalized patient, Chen said.
The man had direct contact with a confirmed case in May, and his cycle threshold (Ct) value in the first PCR test was 34, Chen said.
A re-examination of the test by another lab yielded a Ct value of 40, and a second PCR test came back negative, so it is likely a previous infection, which poses little risk to the local community, he added.
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy head of the CECC’s medical response division, said that the genome sequencing results of case No. 17,307, an infected airport janitor, were unidentifiable, but the S protein sequence is the same as that of eight other infected janitors.
The S protein sequence from case No. 17,307 is also the same as an imported case from the US, who visited the bathroom where she worked on Dec. 24, he added.
The genome sequencing results of seven previous cases have also come back: the personal care aide (No. 17,472), a close friend, a child who goes to the same after-school childcare center as her son, her husband (No. 17,473), and three other baggage cart handlers at the airport.
The sequences of the seven cases were exactly the same, or only had one nucleotide site difference, as the airport janitors and their associated cases, he said.
The findings imply that all these cases might have been infected with the same virus strain through the same chain of transmission — spreading from the airport to the local community, he added.
Asked if domestic COVID-19 restrictions would be further tightened as local cases are being reported every day, Chen said the center does not plan to do so at this time, as the link among the cases is becoming clearer and more traceable.
While there is still risk of community spread, the expansion of the cluster seems to be slowing, he added.
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