Taipei’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is one of the most effective in the world. The last time a case was reported on an island of 23 million people was on Easter Sunday, the 12th. April, recorded on local TV. By Thursday he had confirmed 553 cases, of which only 55 were local broadcasts. Seven deaths have been reported.
Easter was an important milestone in the United States because President Donald Trump had said a month earlier that he wanted the country to be open and that he was jealous of the holidays.
At that time, 1.7 million people were infected and 110,000 people died from the virus – worldwide. On Friday, those figures exceeded 45 million cases and more than 1.1 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Taiwan’s remarkable performance comes in a week in which France and Germany introduced new blockades and the United States discovered a record 88,000 cases in more than a day. On Wednesday alone, 4,188 cases were identified in the state of Florida, which has a population comparable to Taiwan and is home to about 21 million people.
Taiwan has never had to impose strict restrictions. Nor has it resorted to drastic restrictions on civil liberties such as in China.
Instead, Taiwan focused on speed. The Taiwanese authorities initiated the procedure on 31 December 2008. December 2019 with the screening of passengers on direct flights from Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, at a time when the virus was mainly the subject of rumours and limited communication.
Taiwan confirmed the 21st. In January a first case of this new coronavirus was registered, and subsequently the inhabitants of Wuhan were forbidden to travel to the island. All passengers arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao must pass through a checkpoint.
All this happened before Wuhan himself was killed on the 23rd. January in the prison camp. Until March, Taiwan had denied entry to the island to all foreign citizens with the exception of diplomats, residents and holders of special entry visas.
But Taiwan has advantages that its Western counterparts do not have.
One of them is the geography… Because Taiwan is an island, it is easier for officials to control entry and exit across borders.
Taiwan also had experience on his side. After surviving a fatal outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Taiwan has been working to build its capacity to fight the pandemic, Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu said in an interview last month.
When we heard there were cases of clandestine pneumonia in China, where patients were treated in isolation, we knew it was something like that, he said.
The authorities have activated the Central Epidemic Command Centre of the island, set up after SARS to coordinate actions between different ministries. The government has also increased the production of face masks and protective equipment to ensure a continuous supply of PPE.
The government has also invested in mass trials and the rapid and effective pursuit of contacts.
Former Taiwanese vice-president Chen Chen, who is an epidemiologist by training, said the blockade was not perfect. Chen also said there is no need for mass trials in mainland China, where millions of people are screened for a handful of cases.
According to him, the best way to locate Covida-19 is a very careful monitoring of contacts and a very strict quarantine of close contacts.
Paula Hancock, James Griffiths and Minquetan Ja contributed to this report.