By Aaron Humes:
The Republic of China (Taiwan) has set itself apart from many other countries battling a resurgence of COVID-19. According to Time Magazine
, it has now gone 200 days, since April 12, without a locally transmitted case (20 recent cases were imported). It has had a total of 550 confirmed cases and seven deaths.
So what has it gotten right? Experts say closing borders early and tightly regulating travel have gone a long way toward fighting the virus. Other factors include rigorous contact tracing, technology-enforced quarantine, and universal mask-wearing. Further, Taiwan’s deadly experience with SARS has scared people into compliance.
“Taiwan is the only major country that has so far been able to keep community transmission of Covid eliminated,” said Peter Collignon, an infectious disease physician, and professor at the Australian National University Medical School. Taiwan “probably had the best result around the world,” he said, and it’s “even more impressive” for an economy with a population of about the same size as Australia’s (23 million), with many people living close to one another in apartments.
Taiwan will be among the few economies to grow this year, with the government in August forecasting that the gross domestic product will expand 1.56% in 2020.
Former vice-president and an epidemiologist, Chen Chien-jen, said contact tracing and quarantine have been rigorously enforced, but at the same time, the government has taken of those in quarantine, such as providing meal and grocery delivery and even some friendly contact via Line Bot, a robot that texts and chats. Fines for breaking quarantine, however, run to US$35,000.
Taiwan shut down to all non-residents in March and has kept tight control over its borders since, including symptom-based surveillance before travelers board flights and digital fence tracking via cellular signals to ensure their compliance with a 14-day quarantine.
The government decided early in the pandemic to stockpile all domestically produced face masks and banned export. Within four months, companies increased production from 2 million to 20 million units a day, enabling the island to ration masks to residents on a regular basis.
Taiwan’s system has on average linked 20 to 30 contacts for each confirmed case, and one extreme case of a worker at a Taipei City hostess club, 150. All contacts must undergo a 14-day home quarantine, even if they test negative. About 340 thousand have been quarantine and fewer than 1,000 incurred fines for breaking it. “We sacrificed 14 days of 340,000 people in exchange for normal lives for 23 million people,” Chen said.
Taiwan has also applied the painful lessons of past epidemics such as SARS in 2003 which killed seventy-three and recorded the world’s third-highest infection rate. Its emergency response network better handled later pandemics such as influenza H1N1. As a result, its residents are acutely aware of disease-fighting habits like hand-washing and mask-wearing.
Taiwan’s handling of the virus at home has helped it reach out to allies across the world including Belize, to which it has donated thousands of dollars in medical supplies and assistance.