CORONAVIRUS/Expanded testing, social distancing will flatten COVID-19 curve: experts

03/30/2020 05:46 PM
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The inside of an elevator at the Legislative Yuan
The inside of an elevator at the Legislative Yuan

Taipei, March 30 (CNA) Taiwan needs to increase testing and implement social distancing regulations to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, public health experts said Monday at a weekly press conference.

The number of COVID-19 cases in Taiwan has been relatively low because the government imposed travel restrictions early, but new measures are now necessary to flatten the curve before the infections reach 1,000, said Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), dean of National Taiwan University's College of Public Health (NTUCPH).

Furthermore, the country's quarantine measures will be more effective if they are combined with increased testing, Chan said at the press conference at NTUCPH in Taipei.

Also speaking at the press event, NTUCPH Vice Dean Chen Hsiu-hsi (陳秀熙) said Taiwan should expand COVID-19 testing to include everyone arriving from abroad and members of the communities in which infections have been confirmed.

"It is only through testing that we can find all the infections lurking in the corners of society," Chan said. "We are not hunting for the infected, but instead we are looking for the virus so we can stop its transmission."

Photo courtesy of the Central Epidemic Command Center for illustrative purposes only
Photo courtesy of the Central Epidemic Command Center for illustrative purposes only

The issue of testing came to the fore last weekend, when Taiwan reported 31 new COVID-19 cases, including a man in his 50s who developed symptoms as far back as Feb. 28 but was not tested during his many visits to the doctor, apparently because he had no recent history of overseas travel.

It was not until March 26 when he went to the hospital with severe breathing difficulty and a fever that he was suspected of having COVID-19, and he was confirmed on March 28, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said in a news briefing Sunday.

The patient has an underlying chronic respiratory illness, the CECC said.

Meanwhile, NTUCPH professor Lin Hsien-ho (林先和) said at Monday's press conference that social distancing regulations are also important in the efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Unlike SARS in 2003, COVID-19 causes only mild symptoms in more than half of the patients, and many are asymptomatic in the early stages of the infection, Lin said.

He suggested the implementation of social distancing regulations that would limit physical interaction between people and keep them at least two meters apart in public spaces.

Citing Singapore's measures, he said markers can be placed on escalators and in queues to guide people on the distance that must be maintained.

At a legislative hearing Monday, Deputy Health Minister Hsueh Jui-yuan (薛瑞元) said regulations for social distancing are currently being planned and will be implemented in the three phases -- setting guidelines and building a general consensus, promoting the policy through counseling and education, and imposing fines for non-compliance.

On Monday, Taiwan reported eight new COVID-19 infections and another two deaths, bringing its total number of cases to 306 and its fatalities to five, since the coronavirus emerged in China at the end of last year.

Photo courtesy of the Central Epidemic Command Center for illustrative purposes only
Photo courtesy of the Central Epidemic Command Center for illustrative purposes only

(By William Yen)

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