Taiwan announced its first case of COVID-19 on 21 January 2020. Note that the disease first emerged in Wuhan City in mainland China in December 2019, and it spread in neighboring cities and provinces, as well as in neighboring countries.
For territories and countries near to the epicenter of the outbreak, the emerging public health crisis could easily become a massive and uncontrollable disaster because of the Chinese New Year and regional Lunar New Year festivals.
Taiwan still has one of the lowest incidence rates per capita of around 1 in every 500,000 people despite its geographical and cultural proximity to China. In addition, when compared to hard-hit countries like Italy, it has been hailed for its prompt and aggressive response to the impending threat.
The Response of Taiwan to the COVID-19 Outbreak: How the Taiwanese Government Has Been Handling the Situation? Why Has it Been Successful?
Preventive Measures: Handling an Impending Crisis Before it Arrives
One of the reasons why Taiwan remains successful in containing the coronavirus outbreak is that it has been prepared even before the disease arrived in its shores. More specifically, it has mobilized all relevant government agencies to track down the movements in and out of its territories, as well as monitor the health status of the people.
As early as 31 December 2019, the Centers for Disease Control or CDC of Taiwan positioned health officers in its airports to inspect inbound flights from Wuhan, China in response to reports of an unidentified pneumonia outbreak.
The CDC also began monitoring all individuals who traveled in Wuhan within 14 days and exhibited fever or symptoms of respiratory distress on 5 January 2020. ON the 21st day of the same month, the government activated the Central Epidemic Command Center or CECC after deeming that the risk from the outbreak was sufficient.
Note that the Taiwanese government established the National Health Command Center or NHCC in 2004 following the SARA outbreak in 2003. It generally functions as a central command center for managing and controlling disease outbreaks and epidemics. Under the NHCC is the CECC, as well as the Biological Pathogen Disaster Command Center, the Counter-Bioterrorism Command Center, and the Central Medical Emergency Operations Center
A key responsibility of CECC is to mobilize government funds and coordinate all government responses to the impending health crisis to include logistical requirements, administration, disinfection of public spaces, and providing daily public briefings via the media.
Specific measures around relevant resources and supplies have been observed and coordinated as well. These include banning the importation of face masks and digital thermometers, increasing the production of 75 percent alcohol, and the domestic production of protective gowns.
Crisis Response: Managing and Containing the Spread of COVID-19 Outbreak
Remember that the country announced its first case of COVID-19 on 21 January 2020. More measures have been undertaken to contain an impending outbreak and provide relevant healthcare services to affected individuals.
The government implemented a mask rationing system starting 6 February to control the distribution, avoid hoarding, and ensure that there is enough supply for everyone. Citizens and holders of Alien Resident Certificates have been required to present their identification card to obtain these masks
Note that the CECC also mobilized the Taiwanese Armed Force to facilitate the mass production of face masks. Military personnel were dispatched to the production floors of major mask manufacturers while the government also started building additional facilities.
The CECC also postponed the opening of primary and secondary schools on 2 February 2020. Several alert levels have been raised for every country and territory around the world to control or ban incoming and outcoming movements in the country, with special emphasis on areas with recorded COVID-19 cases.
Further Look: Examining the Taiwanese Response to the COVID-19 Threat
Jason Wang, a health policy researcher at Stanford University, with the help of Chun Y. Ng from Taiwan and Robert H. Brook from the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that the success of Taiwan in containing COVID-19 stems from 124 discrete action plans, coupled with well-placed coordination in implementation.
The government acted promptly with the goal of sparing the country from a severe coronavirus outbreak. Included in the 125 action plans are travel bans, quarantines, surveillance or monitoring measures, and social distancing, among others.
It is also important to highlight the role of NHCC and the units operating under it, including CECC. Remember that NHCC was established in 2004 as a response to the 2003 SARS outbreak. It was a round-the-clock command center that integrated different agencies and included a media room and a data room.
The government reactivated NHCC and CECC due to the impending risk of a disease outbreak in the country. In addition, even before the arrival of the disease, officials began to board planes and assess passengers on direct flights from Wuhan as early as December 31.
Case tracking has also been supplemented by big data analytics. The government leveraged its national health insurance database and integrated it with its immigration and customs database to begin the creation of big data analytics. It also used QR code scanning and online reporting to assess the risk of individuals.
The data capabilities of the government have allowed it to generate real-time reports and alerts, record and monitor a large number of people, and thus, provide well-informed and targeted responses for more efficient implementation of administrative and logistic functions.
Another critical factor to the success of Taiwan is public reassurance from the sustained presence of the government. Aside from the daily press briefings, the government rolled out public service announcements intended to educate the public and fight misinformation.
A Summary of Measures or Response of Taiwan to Manage and Control the COVID-19 Outbreak
The response of Taiwan to the threat of the coronavirus disease was considerably as aggressive as the Chinese response. However, what sets it apart from mainland China is that it acted promptly. Below are the summary of specific preventive measures and actual crisis responses implemented and observed by the Taiwanese government:
• Proactive response once the government got hold of information about an unknown outbreak in Wuhan, China. It monitored all flights coming from Wuhan, as well as the passengers and those with previous travel history from the city.
• Activated a centralized command center through the NHCC, specifically the CECC that integrated all government responses and functions, as well as coordinated all government agencies and units responsible for managing the coronavirus risk.
• Controlled and empowered the domestic production and distribution of relevant products to curve the spread of COVID-19, such as face masks, digital thermometers, alcohol, and protective gowns.
• Implemented strict control of inward and outward movements, as well as internal movements in the country through travel advisories and travel bans, checkpoints at ports, and closure of sectors and establishments.
• A key part of the response of Taiwan is the uses big data analytics to consolidate all data analysis and information requirements for tracking and monitoring of cases, as well as for effective and efficient informed-responses and service delivery.
FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES
- Wang, C. J., Ng, C. Y., & Brook, R. H. 2020. “Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan.” JAMA. DOI: 1001/jama.2020.3151
- Piper, K. 2020, March 10. “Taiwan Has Millions of Visitors from China and Only 45 Coronavirus Cases. Here’s How.” Vox. Available online