Highly-urbanized Taiwan emerging as coronavirus success story

by WorldTribune Staff, March 27, 2020

The island nation of Taiwan, with a highly-urbanized population of 24 million, sits about 80 miles from mainland China. Some 1.25 million Taiwanese citizens either live or work on the mainland. In 2019, Taiwan welcomed almost 3 million Chinese visitors.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, has not “inflicted the same level of devastation to Taiwan as seen in China and many other nations to date,” former CIA officer Daniel N. Hoffman noted in a March 26 op-ed for The Washington Times.

Taiwan has been successful in containing the coronavirus outbreak.

Through Wednesday, Taiwan had just 235 confirmed cases and two reported deaths from COVID-19.

“Taiwan’s response has been a veritable panoply of best practices, including information-sharing, interagency cooperation and coordination between government labs and hospitals,” Hoffman noted. “Taiwan allocated billions of dollars to fund containment efforts, border control, the manufacture of critical medical equipment and other priorities.”

Yet, Taiwan’s government remains under siege from the mainland, “whose official ‘one China’ policy aims to force unification if peaceful reconciliation fails,” Hoffman wrote. “Seeking to prevent international recognition of Taiwan, China ruthlessly blocks Taipei’s membership in international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO), which officially considers Taiwan a part of China.”

Hoffman continued: “Taiwan thus risks missing out on critical health information from WHO since the message must first pass through China’s strict state-sponsored censorship.”

Following the SARS epidemic of 2003, Taiwan implemented a comprehensive plan for dealing with such outbreaks. After 73 deaths from the SARS outbreak, Taiwan significantly improved its health infrastructure, creating a National Health Command Center and installing temperature monitors in airports to screen travelers for fever.

“At the first notification that a new virus strain had appeared in China, Taiwan reacted with efficiency and alacrity,” Hoffman wrote.

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control immediately began monitoring passengers who arrived from Wuhan after the first early January reports. In mid-January, Taiwan health experts traveled to Wuhan to collect information on the virus, and later that month Taiwan became the first country to ban flights from the city at the epicenter of the outbreak.

By mid-March, Taiwan required a 14-day quarantine for everyone arriving from the COVID-19 next major target area — western Europe, Britain and Ireland.

Vice President Chen Chien-jen, an epidemiologist by training, “has played a critical role,” Hoffman wrote. “His tenure as health minister during the SARS epidemic gave him vital first-hand experience managing the government’s quarantine and screening procedures. Taiwan integrated its national health insurance database with immigration and customs to support ‘big data’ analytics.”

Hoffman continued: “While policymakers rightly criticize China’s abject initial response to COVID-19, Taiwan operated effectively on the front lines — despite a state-controlled media disinformation campaign from Beijing and China’s failure to share crucial information on a looming health crisis.”

Taiwan’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, Hoffman wrote, is epitomized in Sun Tzu’s insight in “The Art of War”: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat.”

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