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Premium Event with Dr Chen Chien-jen

The ECCT hosted a Premium Event lunch with Dr Chen Chien-jen, Former vice president and currently Distinguished Professor at Academia Sinica. The event was jointly hosted by the ECCT’s Healthcare Enhancement committee and the Planet-Friendly Eating and Living Platform. At the event Dr Chen gave a presentation titled “Post-Covid-19 economy and lifestyle: A new digital and robotic age” in which he shared his views on the impacts brought about by the coronavirus pandemic and some of the opportunities and challenges facing Taiwanese residents, industry, research institutes and the country as a whole in adjusting to the new reality.

The speaker began with a review of Taiwan’s success in dealing with the pandemic through prudent action, rapid response, early deployment, and transparency, all of which were based on principles established after the 2002-2003 SARS experience.

Taiwan’s enforced 14-day home isolation/quarantine method for all arriving passengers has been particularly effective in ensuring containment of possible infections. The effectiveness has been helped by putting in place an electronic security monitoring system used to track the location and health status of people subject to home quarantine or isolation in a designated centre or hotel. And of course the system would not have worked were it not for complete care and support systems provided to those undergoing home quarantine or isolation, such as meal deliveries, rubbish collection and medical care.

But Chen emphasised that success would not have been possible without cooperation of the people affected. He noted that of the over 250,000 people who have been subject to quarantine and isolation, the vast majority have followed guidelines and kept themselves isolated. According to Chen, this high degree of compliance illustrates a spirit of solidarity that has helped to protect the general public.

In addition, unlike many other countries globally, Taiwanese residents tend to follow guidelines regarding wearing surgical masks, practicing social distancing and good hygiene habits.

Chen believes another important factor behind Taiwan’s success is its democratic and transparent approach. He noted that from the very beginning of the pandemic, the government has ensured that the public has had open access to Covid-19 information. In particular, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) has held daily press briefings since January, which generate accurate news across a broad spectrum of media outlets. This enabled the CECC to quickly establish its authority and earn the trust of the public.

Public trust has had a stabilizing influence on society, encouraging citizens to follow government guidance and rules, and making the public less vulnerable to disinformation campaigns. This in effect has created a virtuous cycle: the more the public trust, the more people are willing to cooperate, thus creating a sense of solidarity, which has been the key in the successful containment of Covid-19 in Taiwan.

While Taiwan has done well so far, this is not the time to relax. Chen outlined several challenges in the near future. In particular, Taiwan has a low infection rate and low herd immunity, which makes residents vulnerable to both the current virus and others in future. In addition, the global economic recession is very serious and is affecting Taiwan. Moreover, as Taiwan reopens its borders, there is a risk of an increase in the number of imported cases. Finally, as the winter influenza season begins within a few months, this may increase the difficulty in differential diagnosis between Covid-19 and the seasonal flu and the associated difficulties of clinical management.

International collaboration will be important to contain Covid-19, especially in terms of strengthening travel alerts and border quarantines, applying ICT and AI technology in pandemic containment, corroborating pandemic data and big data analysis, promoting research, development and distribution of rapid diagnostics, antivirals and vaccines.     

While the pandemic has had a devastating impact on several industry sectors, particularly hospitality, travel and tourism, a number of sectors have great potential in the post-Covid world. Chen singled out “big health” which includes e-health, precision medicine, epidemic prevention technology, health promotion services and smart healthcare as the most promising along with the so-called “zero-touch economy” (products and services that eliminate the need for physical contact).

The pandemic has also shown how the labour market can be more flexible and dynamic, as more tasks can be performed remotely. Data-driven services will also become more prominent and important as will digital capital markets. The pandemic has also highlighted the need for supply chain resilience.

According to Chen, the pandemic is accelerating the trend towards an integration of the biomedical and ICT/AI industries. This is creating great opportunities for precision health. He noted that we are seeing a paradigm shift from a “one-size-fits all” approach towards precision medicine for individual patients. There is also a great potential and a growing market for IoT physiological monitoring consumer products, which include devices and clothing that measure vital signs and upload data to the cloud for analysis.

Smart homes of the future are also likely to be fitted out with devices to monitor our health, including testing bodily fluids, sleep patterns and food quality and consumption.

Using AI in healthcare will have a number of benefits, including improving the accuracy and efficiency of diagnoses, developing new medicines, enabling robot-assisted surgery and streamlining the patient’s experience. To name some examples, AI-driven molecular dynamics simulations may lead to new drugs to treat the coronavirus while better analysis and imaging could improve oncology diagnosis.

The convergence of tech and healthcare is already happening. Chen listed a number of tech companies active in healthcare.

Some of the lifestyle changes are likely to become permanent in the post-Covid world. Since masks are mandatory in many places, some innovative designs could make them fashion accessories. Expect temperature monitoring machines and disinfection robots to become ubiquitous. Businesses such as restaurants and bars will have to redesign their spaces to allow disease prevention and social distancing. Working from anywhere will become much more common for a larger number of job functions, online learning options will increase while online entertainment and e-commerce options will continue to grow and improve.  

In the Q&A session, Chen expressed the view that there may be room for a bit more flexibility in current quarantine and isolation requirements. Recent trips by foreign diplomats, he noted, have shown that short trips without quarantine are possible with the right precautions in place.

Chen also gave his view on a recommendation made by some for universal testing of all arriving passengers in Taiwan. He said that Taiwan had proved that the current system of 14-day mandatory quarantine with targeted tests only for suspected cases is the most effective approach, at least for this pandemic. This is because tests are not always accurate, there is a delay between when a patient gets infected and when a test shows infection and because mass testing would be prohibitively expensive. The current approach, while inconvenient for those who have to undergo quarantine, is the best way to stop the disease from spreading to the broader population. 

 Please refer to this link for the photos: