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At least 2 months more to contain the surging COVID-19 outbreak: Taiwan VP

It will take at least another two months to contain the surging new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak worldwide, Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁) predicted during an exclusive interview with CNA on Tuesday.

One of the reasons is that some patients exhibit few symptoms or are asymptomatic. They are not aware of being infected and so spread the virus to people around them unknowingly, Chen said.

Another reason is although drastic measures taken by governments around the world will help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, the ability of governments to control the outbreak differs, he added.

"Some suggest the outbreak can be contained before the end of April, I think that is too optimistic," he said.

Chen, an epidemiologist and former health minister, also revealed that a reliable rapid test for the new coronavirus being developed by Taiwan will hopefully be available in three months.

At that time, it will be possible to identify COVID-19 patients quickly, allowing the government to take prompt action in isolating them and prevent further spread of the coronavirus, he said.

A vaccine for the respiratory disease can hopefully be developed in six months, Chen said. However, he added, government approval for its use would take a little longer, probably one year to 18 months, because it has to be tested on healthy people.

Whether COVID-19 reoccurs in particular seasons, like influenza, also needs to be observed, he said.

It is difficult to predict when the world will recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, as governments have different abilities in handling the crisis, Chen said.

However, one thing for sure is that the negative effects of the outbreak will be far worse than that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, because of its highly infectious nature, Chen said.

As of press time, Taiwan had reported 215 confirmed COVID-19 cases and two deaths, performing relatively well compared to other countries. This good showing is a result of the government building on past experiences dealing with similar situations, according to Chen.

Taiwan learned a lot from the SARS outbreak in 2003 and H1N1 influenza in 2009, putting in place protective measures in response, he said.

These included establishing units to facilitate international cooperation in disease control, restructuring disease control agencies, providing transparent information to the public, training health workers, amendments of health-related laws and advanced preparation of resources.

However, other experts have suggested it could take a year or longer for the COVID-19 outbreak to be brought under control.

For example, Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, has said: "The main message that isn't getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for."

(Report by CNA)

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