Taiwan leads by example in COVID-19 response

By Susanna Cirulli

Situated less than 81 miles from China and excluded from the World Health Organisation, Tsai Ing-wen’s government has managed to prevent a mass outbreak in the country of Taiwan, without ever having to go into lockdown.

Despite its geographical proximity to China, at the time of writing this article, Taiwan has only had a total of 441 coronavirus cases and as few as seven deaths as a result of COVID-19.

These figures, when compared with those of South Korea and Germany, states that have been repeatedly praised in the UK for their positive efforts in combatting this virus, are significantly fewer. Even New Zealand has had a total of 1,504 cases, yet global politics have overshadowed Taiwan’s success.

What has Taiwan learnt from SARS?

Taiwan’s effective management of the COVID-19 pandemic can be attributed to the serious nature in which, what was initially dismissed by many as pneumonia during flu season, was handled.

Having learnt from their experience of the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003 that caused 181 deaths in Taiwan, the government immediately introduced proactive measures to avert the mass spread of COVID-19.

When news broke in December of a new contagious respiratory disease appearing in Wuhan, incoming passengers from the area were monitored, before being one of the first countries in the world to introduce travel restrictions. By February 6th, Taiwan stopped all incoming flights from China.

To seek more information about the virus and gain clarity of the situation, Taiwan received permission to send medical experts to Wuhan on January 12th. The intelligence they gained, alongside the preparation of the government and the specially established Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC), enabled the country to be thoroughly prepared by the time the first case in the country became apparent on January 21st.

More impressively, Taiwan has once again managed to overcome global politics in its management of the outbreak. Due to China’s relationship with the World Health Organisation (WHO), Taiwan is not recognised as a country and therefore excluded from membership. Nonetheless, despite this isolation, the island has led a global example in its prevention of the mass outbreak of COVID-19.

Taiwan’s strict implementation of self isolation

The combination of advanced technology and “compliant” citizens has been one of the critical contributions to Taiwan’s success. By the end of January, members of the public began to socially distance, and the government introduced widespread temperature testing in public spaces. 

Incoming flights were also monitored and tested upon arrival so that anyone displaying symptoms such as a fever could self-isolate for 14 days. Those self-isolating were and still are legally required to comply with isolation, tracked via mobile phone activity.

Anyone found to be breaking the rules can face harsh fines of up to $1 million NTD, the equivalent of approximately just over £27,000. Implemented from the beginning of the outbreak, this highly effective track and trace system has prevented Taiwan from ever having to go into lockdown.

17 million masks and counting

The extensive monitoring system of new cases has also been supported by abundant PPE for both medical personnel and civilians. At the end of January, the government began regulating the export of medical-grade masks to prevent mass panic buying and for the protection of the general public. Increased production of masks on a national level steadily developed into a comprehensive system of distribution; by late-April, Taiwan was producing 17 million masks a day.

Although masks were initially rationed, an app system has now been developed which is linked to mask vending machines. Launched on April 11th, members of the public can log onto the app and see how many masks are available at various machines to prevent overcrowding and queuing. Each machine serves a person in just 30 seconds, providing an efficient distribution service of affordable medical-grade masks. Wearing a mask is a legal requirement on all public transport in Taiwan. 

Taking the lead in the global COVID-19 response

With effective containment of COVID-19 within its borders, Taiwan has now extended its efforts in aiding other countries worldwide in the fight against the novel coronavirus. The newly adopted slogan “Taiwan can help” from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) encourages other countries to accept aid from a country that has not only exceeded international expectations but has done so alone.

In the past few weeks, Taiwan has provided more than 16 million medical masks to support medical professionals around the world. It is one of the countries leading the global effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19.

Furthermore, Taiwan has donated PPE to Italy and ventilators to Prague. In a recent MOFA video posted on May 19th, President Tsai Ing-wen expressed: “Taiwan chooses to stand with the world in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. No-one can isolate a friend who truly wants to help. As we seek to achieve help for all, Taiwan can help, and Taiwan is helping.”

So what can we learn from Taiwan?

As we reflect upon the actions of our own respective countries in the face of COVID-19, Taiwan’s impressive management must not go unnoticed. The actions of Tsai Ing-wen’s government have consistently put the health and safety of the people of Taiwan above anything else. In doing so, the country has protected not only its civilians and medical personnel, but also its economy, as life has largely been able to continue as normal.

By aiding the global community in the remaining fight against COVID-19, they have established what it means to be truly successful as a community during a health crisis. As Taiwan gains further recognition and praise on a global level, we cannot help but question its exclusion from the WHO for the future.

Tsai Ing-wen has been President of Taiwan since 2016.

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