Academia Sinica epidemiologist estimates 300 to 600 asymptomatic carriers in Taiwan

Dr. Ho Mei-shang warns real challenge of community transmission would come in fall/winter

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Dr. Ho Mei-shang

Dr. Ho Mei-shang (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A leading epidemiologist estimates that there are a shocking number of potentially asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers in Taiwan, after reports that a Japanese student and a Thai worker tested positive for the virus upon returning home from the country.

Dr. Ho Mei-shang (何美鄉), an adjunct research fellow at Academia Sinica's Institute of Biomedical Sciences, made a post to her blog on Wednesday (July 29), which estimated that there are likely 300 to 600 people in Taiwan who may be unwittingly spreading the virus. The number was calculated based on the immigration office statistics of departing air passengers in June alone, among which 25,466 out of 29,980 were aged between 14 and 64.

Ho then compared the ratio of the two positive tests over the total departing passengers aged 14-64 that month to the domestic population of the same age group, concluding that around 300 to 600 people in the country might carry the virus at this moment.

"People would naturally come to think that the two cases might not be the exceptions and want to know how many asymptomatic carriers on the island could be spreading the virus in local communities," she said. These 300-600 people might be the source of community spread in the fall and winter, in other words, flu season; by then, it would be a genuine test of Taiwan's capability to control community transmission.

On Tuesday Chan Chang-chuan (詹長權), dean of National Taiwan University’s College of Public Health, expressed the same worries over asymptomatic spread at a professional forum and urged the government to implement mass screenings on all those returning from abroad.

Taiwan has recorded no new local infections for 111 days, with the last local case reported on April 8. Out of 467 total confirmed cases, 376 were imported, 55 were local, and 36 came as the result of a cluster infection aboard vessels from the Navy's "Goodwill Fleet."