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Friday, Jun 05, 2020

Coronavirus: social distancing remains the best strategy, experts tell Facebook’s Covid Frontline event co-hosted by SCMP

With vaccines, treatments at least a year away, pathology expert John Nicholls and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison say avoiding contact is our best hope. Experts gather for Facebook programme Covid Frontline, co-hosted by the Post, as global Covid-19 infections surpass 1 million

Social distancing remains the best universal strategy against the coronavirus as vaccines or treatments are still at least a year away, health experts in Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore have said on a Facebook show co-hosted by the South China Morning Post.

As the number of Covid-19 infections sweeping the globe surpassed 1 million, a panel of leading medical specialists from the Asia-Pacific shared their experiences on internet programme Covid Frontline, which was broadcast on Friday and co-organised by Facebook, the Post and two other leading newsrooms, 7NEWS in Sydney and The Straits Times in Singapore.

The show is now available on demand through Facebook Watch.

John Nicholls, clinical professor in pathology at the University of Hong Kong, said the seasonal nature of the coronavirus would give the northern hemisphere “a break” in the coming summer months, but warned people not to let their guard down and continue to exercise social distancing.

“As there are no vaccines for another year and there are no really good antibiotics, the best method we have now, which have been used around the world, is social methods – social distancing and quarantine measures,” he said. “That’s the best we have to keep the virus away.”

Hong Kong escalated its social-distancing measures by forcing the closure of all pubs and bars from Friday evening. The number of cases in Hong Kong and Singapore rose to 845 and 1,114 respectively on Friday, while the Australia figure has exceeded 5,200.

In the global race to develop immunisation against the deadly disease, Wang Lingfa, director of emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, noted that China and the United States had both started a Phase I clinical trial of a vaccine against the virus, but said they were just “vaccine candidates”.

“For licensed vaccines for mass vaccination, it will take six to 12 months from now,” said Wang, who was on the World Health Organisation committee that declared the Covid-19 a global pandemic.

Alexander Cook, vice-dean for research at National University of Singapore’s school of public health, assured that mutations of the virus recently found by Icelandic scientists would not affect vaccine development as small mutations were “not uncommon”.

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, featuring in a pre-recorded interview, said his government would continue to implement social distancing while trying to minimise social disruption, appealing to people to live the “whole new normal” until vaccines were developed.

“This is not something that just comes and goes in a couple of weeks,” he said. “We think six months is a reasonable estimate at this moment. I certainly hope this might be sooner than that but it could also be longer.”

During the show, experts also answered questions submitted by the global audience via Facebook and Instagram platforms.

When asked whether certain blood types were more susceptible to the virus, Dr David Hui Shu-cheong, an infectious disease adviser to the Hong Kong government, said there was no reliable proof on the link between blood type and susceptibility.

Having reviewed a study conducted by mainland Chinese researchers which suggested that blood group O had a lower risk of the disease while blood group A were more susceptible to being infected, he said there were major limitations of the findings.

“This was only a small study. They did not control existing illnesses [of the tested population]. I don’t believe it,” he said.

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