A scientist conducts antibody testing at a laboratory in Taiwan in an undated photograph. Photo: Chang Tsung-chiu, Taipei Times
By Lee I-chia / Staff reporter
Tony Chen （陳秀熙）, a professor and vice dean of National Taiwan University’s （NTU） College of Public Health, yesterday said that Taiwan should start conducting antibody testing to discover the prevalence of COVID-19 in the nation.
Reviewing the college’s 17th weekly report on COVID-19, Chen introduced an “index for easing lockdown and border control regulations,” calculated using a formula that includes the nation’s total number of confirmed cases, recovered cases and mortality rate — the number of deaths divided by the number of confirmed cases.
An index score of less than one indicates that a country can consider gradually easing its restrictions, while those with an index score of more than one could still be recovering from a COVID-19 outbreak or still have a serious COVID-19 situation, he said.
Countries with the lowest index scores include Iceland at 0.01, New Zealand at 0.03 and Taiwan at 0.06, Chen said.
However, some of the countries or areas that Taiwanese most like to visit still have relatively high index scores, including the US at 4.07, the Philippines at 3.57 and Canada at 1.11, he said.
Other countries or areas with high index scores included Bolivia at 11, central Africa at 37, France at 2.25, New York State at 5.03 and Sweden at 7.33, Chen’s data showed.
After introducing some social distancing or digital contact tracing apps used in other counties as a reference, Chen said: “Taiwan does not have to conduct wide-scale antibody testing for COVID-19, but we must conduct the tests on several groups of people.”
He said the antibody testing is necessary to understand the prevalence of the disease and how long immunity lasts, to calculate the herd immunity among different groups of people and to consider how to gradually ease social distancing measures.
Chen said that seven groups of people should be tested first: confirmed cases; people under home isolation; people under home quarantine or who have recently visited other countries; healthcare practitioners; flight attendants; people in densely populated facilities, such as businesses that fall under the “eight major special establishment categories” and long-term care centers; and migrant workers.
Changhua County Public Health Bureau Director Yeh Yen-po （葉彥伯） said that the county plans to cooperate with the NTU College of Public Health and conduct antibody testing on confirmed cases, their close contacts, healthcare practitioners and people who are at higher risk of contracting the virus.
Starting this month, the county expects to test about 10,000 people, Yeh said.
In related developments, the National Health Research Institutes （NHRI）, in collaboration with the National Defense Medical Center, said that they are likely to have a rapid diagnostic test for the novel coronavirus ready for market by the end of the year.
A prototype of the test, which was unveiled in early April, produces results within 10 to 15 minutes and has a 70 percent accuracy rate, the NHRI said.
The NHRI said that it has transferred the test technology to five domestic manufacturers, which would develop the test so that they can mass produce it. However, the clinical studies would have to be conducted abroad, officials said.
Additional reporting by CNA