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Life in Taiwan may not return to normal until after September: CECC

Cautious public may have brought about 'plateau period' that extends timeline for its end

Cyclists ride past COVID testing station set up in Liberty Square. 

Cyclists ride past COVID testing station set up in Liberty Square.  (CNA photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — An expert from the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has predicted the peak of the current outbreak should pass by the end of July, but life in Taiwan may not return to normal until after September.

On May 19, CECC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) convener Lee Ping-ing (李秉穎) said during an interview with BaoDao Radio host Clara Chou (周玉蔻) the outbreak would abate in mid-June and life could return to the level of normalcy seen in Singapore, Japan, and South Korea in September.

However, in a more recent interview on Chou's show Thursday (May 26), Lee added that given the plateauing of new cases brought about by a cautious public, life in Taiwan may not return to normal until after September.

Lee pointed out that after reaching a peak of 90,000 cases on May 19, daily infections began to steadily decline, dropping to around 60,000 cases at one point, but surged to over 89,000 on Wednesday (May 25), with 76 deaths, a single-day high. Lee said that this fluctuation between 80,000 and 90,000 cases indicates the epidemic could have reached a "plateau period," but that more data is needed to confirm the trend.

Regarding the record 76 deaths reported on Wednesday, Lee conceded this was to be expected given the recent high point in cases. He explained that severe cases usually take many days to reach a critical stage and so deaths often occur several weeks after the peak of the epidemic curve.

However, Lee stressed that Taiwan's mortality rate is relatively low. He said at the beginning of the pandemic two years ago, the mortality rate of a COVID infection was about 2-4%.

For a while in Europe and the U.S., due to the strain on the medical system, the mortality rate climbed to 6-8%, said Lee. In contrast, Taiwan's mortality rate has been only a few ten thousandths, with Lee attributing this to the country's higher vaccination rate at this stage.

Lee pointed out that since the start of the current outbreak, people's epidemic prevention awareness has increased, which has caused the epidemic to enter a slowing trend. Although there will not be a "mountainous" surge, Lee said it may take longer to subside.

The CECC expert noted that neighboring Japan and South Korea have also experienced a slow rise and slow decline in cases. He observed that their epidemics have been raging for four months and have yet to end.

"If you look at the most optimistic prediction, there is a chance to return to life as normal in September, but it will likely take longer," said Lee. However, he added that even if the epidemic does not subside when herd immunity reaches a certain level in the future, it may still be possible to have a moderate opening of the country and loosen restrictions.

Lee predicted that by the end of July, the peak of the local outbreak should have passed, "but there's probably still some way to go before people can live with complete ease."