Being an island sure helped Taiwan, but this does little to dent their success. With a population of over 20 million, close ties to mainland Asia and plenty of tourism, Taiwan was exposed to the dangers of the pandemic.
But a combination of prompt action and dramatic interventions made Taiwan enjoy the better part of a year without a single confirmed coronavirus case. Taiwanese authorities thanked the public for its action as the country hailed its 200th coronavirus-free day.
To get a sense of how quickly Taiwan acted, you need to start with the beginning. They implemented checks on travellers from Wuhan (the place where the pandemic started) as early as 31 December, when officially the disease was still a “mysterious” pneumonia of “unknown origin.”
The island was prompted to early action by its previous exposure to the SARS epidemic almost two decades ago. The government response was also aided by having an epidemiologist as vice-president, competent leadership, and an excellent public health system.
The backbone of Taiwan’s intervention was not fancy, but very strict. Travel was tightly regulated, universal mask-wearing was mandated, and contact tracing was diligently carried out. Travelers had to self-quarantine for up to 14 days depending on where they were coming from.
“Extensive public health infrastructure established in Taiwan pre-COVID-19 enabled a fast coordinated response, particularly in the domains of early screening, effective methods for isolation/quarantine, digital technologies for identifying potential cases and mass mask use,” noted an article on lessons from Taiwan and New Zealand published in The Lancet. “This timely and vigorous response allowed Taiwan to avoid the national lockdown used by New Zealand. Many of Taiwan’s pandemic control components could potentially be adopted by other jurisdictions.”
However, there were aspects of Taiwan’s approach that were intrusive and could not be replicated in other countries, particularly its technology-enforced quarantine. Taiwanese experts themselves noted that measures must be “culturally appropriate and sensitive” to the population.
While Taiwan has had no locally transmitted coronavirus cases since April, it has had to deal with imported cases, and this will undoubtedly remain a problem to deal with for months to come.
But so far, the results speak for themselves — and they speak volumes. Taiwan has had 550 cases in total since the pandemic started, for its population of 24 million.
It’s an exemplary record, as cases are surging in most of the world. More than 44 million cases have been reported worldwide so far.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.