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Taiwanese can stop wearing masks when vaccination rate reaches 70%: Expert

Expert says Taiwanese could take off their masks in spring, when country reaches 70% full vaccination threshold

Taiwanese can stop wearing masks when vaccination rate reaches 70%: Expert

(CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), politicians, and disease experts are eyeing a full vaccination rate of 70% as a milestone when epidemic prevention measures, including the wearing of face masks, can be phased out.

On Sept. 24, Health Minister and CECC head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said that once 60% of the population has had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the center would begin to lower epidemic control measures and some businesses that have been shuttered can reopen. That same day, Taoyuan Mayor Cheng Wen-tsan (鄭文燦) said that if the first-dose vaccination rate reaches 70% by the end of October, he will ask the CECC to lower the epidemic alert from Level 2 to Level 1.

Toxicology expert Chao Ming-wei (招名威) on Tuesday (Oct. 12) was cited by SET News as saying that when 70% of the population has been fully vaccinated people will no longer need to wear a mask when they go out in public. Chao said that not having to wear a mask is "just around the corner," but he stressed that the virus is still present and Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing are still necessary at the moment.

Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy head of the CECC’s medical response division, recently stated that a full vaccination coverage rate of 70% is one of the key considerations for a possible downgrade of the epidemic prevention alert level. He said it will also depend on the status of case numbers and the vaccine coverage rate of high-risk groups.

During an interpellation session of the Legislative Yuan on Tuesday (Oct. 12), Kuomintang Legislator Chiang Wan-an (蔣萬安) asked Chen whether the strategy of zero cases was sustainable. Chen responded by saying that the zero case strategy is "the goal and the means to build defensive resilience," but once it is successfully established, Taiwan can eventually "coexist peacefully with the virus."

Chiang then asked when herd immunity in the community could be achieved. Chen said that the goal is not herd immunity, but rather a certain level of vaccine coverage.

Chen estimates that by the end of this month, first-dose vaccinations will reach 70% and those who have had two doses will rise to 30%. The CECC head stated that in November, the scale of the vaccinations will increase and the goal is to achieve full vaccination in 60% of the population by the end of the year.

Former Deputy Director of Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control Shih Wen-I (施文儀) was cited by UDN as cautioning that the vaccine coverage rate in Taiwan is not yet very high and the flu season is approaching. Therefore, he believes it is too early for people to take off their masks in public, but he said that it is "not too late" to talk about getting rid of masks by spring.