How Taiwan, despite being close to China has only 32 active cases of Coronavirus?

  • The quick steps Taiwan took in the time of coronavirus outbreak stand example for the world to learn

  • With thousands of Taiwanese working in China, one would expect the country to be hard hit, but that's not the case

Only about 53 are infected with the novel coronavirus in Taiwan, with 20 recoveries so far and one death, making it a classic example of how a nation tried to contain coronavirus using all its learning.

Taiwan, a country that is just 81 miles away from mainland China with a population of 23 million and thousands working in China, one would expect the country to be hard hit. However, that's not the case despite having numerous flights to China.

Quick actions: Learning from SARS

According to a study published in JAMA Network, Taiwan government established National Health Command Center (NHCC) in 2004 after the SARS outbreak, which is part of a disaster management center focussing on large-outbreak response and a central communication point which unified a central command system including Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), the Biological Pathogen Disaster Command Center, the Counter-Bioterrorism Command Center, and the Central Medical Emergency Operations Center.

SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Wikimedia Commons

Soon after China notified WHO of the strange pneumonia coronavirus Covid-19, officials of Taiwan assessed flight passengers from Wuhan for fever and pneumonia, as early as December 31 with a notification on January 5 "to include any individual who had traveled to Wuhan in the past 14 days and had a fever or symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection at the point of entry; suspected cases were screened for 26 viruses including SARS and MERS. Passengers displaying symptoms of fever and coughing were quarantined at home and assessed whether medical attention at a hospital was necessary," as per the study by Stanford Health Policy's Jason Wang, who is an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine.

Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC) officially activated the CECC for severe special infectious pneumonia on January 20, at a time when these cases rose sharply in China.

Big Data Analytics

Using the household registration system and foreign entry card, officials tracked those with high risk based on travel history in affected areas to zero in on the potentially infected ones and were monitored through their phones. An online system of faster immigration clearance for those with minimal risk was created in merely 72 hours, that is by using Quick Response (QR) code scanning and online reporting of travel history and health symptoms to classify travelers' infectious risk based on flight origin and travel history.

On February 18, government announced that all the hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies in Taiwan would have access to patients' travel histories.

CECC played active role in the logistics like surgical masks and isolation rooms. There were daily press briefings by the officials along with cautionary announcements. Government published 50 locations for the citizens to get back if they had travelled to any of the places and asked citizens to conduct symptom monitoring and self-quarantine if necessary.

Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation received approval ratings of more than 80% for the feat of handling crisis while the the president and the premier received an overall approval rating of close to 70%.

An Example

As of February 24, Taiwan had 30 cases of COVID-19 ranking 10th among countries with infections. Today, it has 32 active cases of the disease (as 20 of them recovered) with one death.

"Taiwan's government learned from its 2003 SARS experience and established a public health response mechanism for enabling rapid actions for the next crisis," concluded Mr Wang and his colleagues in the journal. Taiwan remains an example of how governments can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens.

There may be an argument that Taiwan is a small country, but it had 2.71 million visitors from China last year, not to forget its proximity and relations with China.

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