Four people who tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week were infected with the UK variant, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said yesterday, urging people to get vaccinated as early as possible, as the AstraZeneca vaccine is about 70 percent effective against the variant.
The center reported seven cases of COVID-19 among China Airlines cargo pilots in the past week: two Taiwanese on Tuesday; two Indonesians on Friday, including one who tested positive in Australia; a Taiwanese on Saturday; and two more Taiwanese yesterday.
Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Philip Lo (羅一鈞), deputy chief of the CECC’s medical response division, yesterday said that genomic sequencing on confirmed cases related to the airline pilots have so far shown that four people were infected with the UK variant — SARS-CoV-2 lineage B.1.1.7.
Whole viral genome sequencing on the virus samples from the two cases reported on Tuesday showed a complete match with the UK variant, so they are considered likely a related event, he said.
Partial viral genome sequencing was conducted on virus samples from two other cases — the son of the Indonesian pilot who tested positive in Australia and another Indonesian pilot who met with the father and son at a public gathering on April 16 — and the S protein sequences were also very similar to the two previous cases, he said.
“We cannot exclude the possibility of the four cases being associated, but the correlation among them is still being investigated,” Lo said.
He said credible studies suggest that the UK variant is about 50 percent more transmissible and those infected have a 60 percent greater chance of dying compared with the original virus.
As it has become a dominant strain circulating in several countries around the world, it is difficult to assume where the pilots contracted the disease, he added.
“The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that is available in Taiwan is fairly effective against the new UK variant,” Lo said.
A study published in The Lancet on March 30 said clinical trials showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine is about 70 percent effective against symptomatic COVID-19 caused by the UK variant, he said.
Lo said the study showed that even if people contract the disease after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, they test positive for the virus for about one week on average, compared with those who are not vaccinated, who test positive for about two weeks.
Those who are vaccinated are likely to have lower viral loads, too, he added.
“We encourage people who are eligible for government-funded vaccinations to get vaccinated as early as possible,” he said.
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