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Expert sees "huge opportunities" for China-New Zealand cooperation on epidemic prevention

(Xinhua)    16:02, March 25, 2020

WELLINGTON, March 25 (Xinhua) -- There are "huge opportunities" for China-New Zealand cooperation on epidemic prevention, a New Zealand epidemiologist told Xinhua in a recent interview.

David Murdoch, dean of the University of Otago (Christchurch), said some cooperation projects on noncommunicable diseases between his university and Chinese research bodies already exist.

"We've seen remarkable collaboration between different institutions worldwide, including identification and discovery of the virus, and then the genetic code of that virus, and the really quick sharing with the world," said the expert, who specializes in diagnosis and prevention of respiratory tract infections.

The current pandemic will not be the last one, the professor said, adding that "there's a very good chance we will see another ... like this."

As for vaccine research, the expert said in the past it took 10, 15 or even 20 years before a vaccine entered the market, though the process has quickened since the Ebola outbreak.

"We'll probably be lucky to have a vaccine (for the novel coronavirus) within 12 or 18 months, but that's a lot faster than it used to be," he said, who is also a member of the Ministry of Health's advisor group.

"Sometimes a crisis like this can move technology on," he added.

Murdoch said he was impressed by the Chinese medical community's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

"The rigorous and even aggressive response to contain the virus has got the outbreak under control more than we would have thought, and now many countries are using that experience to fight harder in their own response," Murdoch said.

He said the economic impact of the disease is huge and that the current focus for China is to resume production, affirming the importance of sustained efforts to prevent "a secondary peak."

Given that many Asian people who wear face masks in public places often receive suspicious responses in New Zealand, Murdoch said wearing masks is more of a cultural choice than a medical issue.

"In New Zealand, it is unusual to go out with a mask," the expert said. "There is a feeling that you must be really unwell if you wear a mask, and if you are unwell you should stay home. So that's the thinking for New Zealanders, but it's also realized that for many cultures it's quite acceptable to do it."

He said a mask is certainly effective at preventing the spread of a respiratory infection, while physical distancing should also be effective.

"I think in a situation of a pandemic, we will see more New Zealanders wearing masks, and there will be a greater acceptance of why people do that," said Murdoch. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: He Zhuoyan, Bianji)

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