Social distancing the new norm with vaccine far away: Taiwan VP

TAIPEI (CNA) — Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), an epidemiologist by training, feels social distancing will became a way of life amid the COVID-19 outbreak for at least another 18 months, the time it will take to develop a vaccine.

According to a transcript of Chen’s interview with the Daily Telegraph posted on the Presidential Office’s website Sunday, Chen believed mankind “won’t get rid of this virus totally” because it is highly contagious with many mild or asymptomatic cases and can be transmitted through droplets and contaminated areas.

There is therefore a need to develop rapid diagnostics and anti-virals to treat the cases, with milder ones to be treated by private practitioners and severe ones to be treated in medical centers, he said.

“Maybe in one and a half years, we may have a vaccine… But before that, we definitely have to keep social distancing,” he said.

Chen suggested that as long as people live in a “self-limited way” by cutting their social contacts in half, then a “semi-normal” lifestyle can still be achieved.

On reopening travel and trade, Chen said all nations must share data and make their outbreak status transparent so that international transportation can be coordinated.

Studies on antibodies and blood sample testing will be needed to know the infection status of each country, he said.

As to when will life return to normal, Chen admitted it was difficult to predict accurately as he sees the outbreak in Europe has having reached its peak and on the way down while it is still going up in the United States.

Nevertheless, “all nations are mobilized, and they are doing much better than one month ago. It’s a kind of good phenomenon of globalization, COVID-19 containment,” he said.

In the interview, he also expressed reservations about the contention that the new coronavirus originated from the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a live animal market in Wuhan.

“If we look back at all the reports among the first 42 cases published in academic journals, around 10 of them have no history of going to Huanan Seafood Market,” he said.

Vice President Chen Chien-jen. (CNA)