In facing new challenges of COVID-19, what should we do? A new COVID-19 variant has emerged in the UK and spread to many countries, so what threats are we now facing? On January 4, 2021, Tzu Chi University invited Academia Sinica President James C. Liao to give us a speech entitled, “The Pathogenesis of COVID-19 and Our Courses of Action”. In response to the UK’s new COVID-19 variant, President Liao said that the Academia Sinica has set up a real-time global monitoring system for emerging viral variants, to update the epidemic situation around the world, and watch the mutation trends of COVID-19 variants.
In March 2020, President Liao invited many domestic educational and research institutions to work together on a “COVID-19 Collaboration Platform” for developing detection kits, drugs, and vaccines. Tzu Chi University and Taipei Tzu Chi General Hospital also joined the team, and successfully developed a COVID-19 Antibody Detection Kit in May, 2020, which was approved by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and were given authorization to manufacture the kits. After obtaining import permits from various countries, 30,000 kits were exported to Indonesia at the end of September, 25,000 kits to Honduras in November, 40,000 kits to Bolivia in December, and 35,000 kits to the Dominican Republic.
More than 200 people attended President Liao’s speech, and among them were Tzu Chi Education Foundation CEO Pen-Jung Wang, Tzu Chi University President Ingrid Liu, Tzu Chi University faculty members, staff and students, members of Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital, local residents, etc. Furthermore, those who were unable to attend could watch the live broadcast. President Liao pointed out that the purpose of founding the “COVID-19 Collaboration Platform” is to speed up research and development by sharing research information with each other. He was grateful for Tzu Chi University’s worthy efforts to send detection kits to other countries, free of charge, to benefit those who are badly in need of testing devices. COVID-19 detection kits do not require any electricity or have to work with other medical equipment, and they are good devices that enable medical professionals to make good decisions and control spread of the coronavirus.
President Liao’s speech comprised two parts. He started with introducing COVID-19 in Chinese, and followed by explaining, in English, about how the coronavirus replicates and evolves. How do coronaviruses cause diseases? How do we treat patients of COVID-19?
Regarding the UK COVID-19 variant, which people are highly concerned about, President Liao said that RNA viruses have high mutation rates, and as viruses replicate, small copying errors known as mutations naturally arise in their genomes. The new coronaviruses currently dominating the world are mainly the sixth type coronavirus mutated from the early ones, and the new coronaviruses are still mutating.
The UK COVID-19 variant is a variant of SARS-CoV-2, which is also known as VOC-202012/01, and is defined by 23 mutations. It was first discovered in Kent, which is located in the southeast of England, but it may never be known where it originated. Discovery in the UK may reflect that the UK does more sequencing than many other countries. Moreover, it has been reported that the variant has been more transmissible than other variants in the UK. For the time being, there is no evidence showing infected people will have severe symptoms
When facing emerging viral variants, what should we do? President Liao mentioned that he has received many letters from overseas, which expressed a high regard for Taiwan’s epidemic prevention measures. Taiwan has carried out precise screenings, our people have the correct epidemic prevention concepts and have implemented the needed measures in their daily lives. As a result, Taiwan is able to effectively prevent the virus from spreading. Now, he wishes to speed up research and development endeavors. Furthermore, educational and research institutions must work closely with each other, to develop drugs and vaccines to cope with COVID-19.
University President Ingrid Liu thanked President Liao for his splendid speech. Facing the threat of the epidemic, the University’s faculty members and students have made great efforts and applied what they have learned to develop a COVID-19 antibody detection kit. Attending to the needs of those who live overseas, the University has sent the kits to countries where the epidemic is severe. Everyone should face Nature with humility and respect all lives with kindness and compassion.