As countries around the world combat the coronavirus, Taiwan may offer valuable lessons on how to combat the pandemic. Of the 100-plus countries and territories affected, Taiwan has the lowest incidence rate per capita — around 1 in every 500,000 people. How was this achieved in a place that is located so close to China and with so much travel to and from?
Lessons To Be Learned
Due to its proximity to and common language as China, Taiwan learned early that a “severe pneumonia” was spreading in Wuhan. On Dec. 31, the same day China notified the World Health Organization that it had several cases of unknown pneumonia, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control immediately ordered inspections of passengers arriving on flights from Wuhan.
Interestingly, despite poor relations with Beijing, Taiwan asked and received permission to send a team of experts to the mainland on a fact-finding mission Jan. 12. As soon as the team returned, Taiwan began requiring hospitals to test for and report cases. This helped the government identify those infected, trace their contacts and isolate everyone involved. As a result, a community-wide spread was prevented. This was done long before Taiwan confirmed its first case Jan. 21 and the rest of the world began panicking.
Command Centers and Health insurance
Critically, Taiwan’s CDC activated the Central Epidemic Command Center relatively early on Jan. 20. This enabled the country to quickly roll out a series of epidemic control measures. The command investigated confirmed and suspected cases and worked with ministries and local governments to coordinate the response across Taiwan. This includes allocating funds, mobilizing personnel and advising on the disinfection of schools. The country’s health insurance system also helped alleviate worries about the inability to afford medical care. Residents get a free test, and if forced to be isolated, during the 14 days, the government pays for food, lodging and medical care.
Flight Bans and Early Detection
Taiwan also took tough action early. On Jan. 26, five days after it confirmed its first case, Taiwan banned arrivals from Wuhan, earlier than any other country. Soon, only flights from a handful of Chinese cities, and Taiwanese people were allowed to fly in.
After securing its borders, Taiwan used technology to fight the virus. Temperature monitors were already set up at airports after the 2003 SARS outbreak to detect anyone with a fever, a symptom of coronavirus. Passengers can also scan a QR code and report their travel history and health symptoms online. That data is then given directly to Taiwan’s CDC. Travellers from badly affected areas are put under mandatory 14-day home quarantine, sick or not, and are tracked using location sharing on their mobile phone. The CDC also proactively find new cases by retesting those who tested negative. Heavy fines were placed on absconders and people who failed to report symptoms. For instance, one man didn’t report his symptoms after returning from Wuhan but went to a dance club the next day. He was later fined $10,000.
Availability of Supplies and Public Education
To ensure a steady supply of masks, the government quickly banned manufacturers from exporting them, implemented a rationing system and set the price at just 16 cents each. It also set up new production lines and dispatched soldiers to staff factories, significantly increasing production.
The government also asked television and radio stations to broadcast hourly public service announcements on how the virus is spread, the importance of washing hands properly, and when to wear a mask. Residents understood that a person’s travel history or contact with infected individuals determined their risk level, not their nationality or race. That understanding helped reduce discrimination.
Coaxing Public Cooperation
The public’s cooperation with the government’s recommended measures was crucial to prevent the spread of the virus, especially among students. Basically every office building, school and community sports centre checked temperatures and prevented anyone with a fever from entering. Apartment buildings also placed hand sanitizer inside or outside elevators and used detection cameras.
Learning from Experience
Taiwan was able to put the lessons it learned during the SARS outbreak in 2003 to good use. That epidemic ended up killing 73 people and hurting the economy. This time, Taiwan’s government and people were prepared. It was this preparedness that helped them avert the disaster ravaging other countries around the world.