Why does Taiwan have fewer cases of Covid-19 than more distant places despite its close proximity to China?

As the country is so close to China, Taiwan remained on high alert and began implementing some proactive measures during the early stages

As the coronavirus has spread to more than 100 countries and territories, infecting over 110,000 people across the world, an island which is so close – just 81 miles away – from the country where the disease first emerged, had only reported 48 confirmed cases and 1 death case of Covid-19 so far.

On Tuesday (10 March), NBC news featured an article written by a BBC journalist Cindy Sui, analysing how Taiwan has a lower number of Covid-19 cases compared with those countries which are much farther away from China.

In comparison, the SARS outbreak in 2003 had an impact in Taiwan as 73 people died from the disease while the country’s economy was badly affected. As a result, Taiwan learned its lesson and was well-prepared in advance to combat this new deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Take proactive measures when seeing cases emerge in China

As the country is so close to China, Taiwan remained on high alert and began implementing some proactive measures when it learned that a severe pneumonia was starting to spread in Wuhan.

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is the agency which react immediately by instructing an inspection on travellers arrived on flights from Wuhan on 31 December, the same day when the World Health Organisation (WHO) was informed by China of a few unknown pneumonia cases reported in Wuhan.

Before Taiwan confirmed its first Covid-19 case on 21 January, a team of Taiwanese experts were asked to visit China for a fact-finding mission on 12 January. On that mission, they sensed that the situation in Wuhan was not “optimistic”.

In efforts to prevent transmission of the virus to its community, Taiwan soon required hospitals to conduct testing and report related cases, which helps the government to identify the patient, perform contact tracing, and isolate those involved.

Citing a quote from Stanford Health Policy’s researcher Jason Wang, NBC news stated that Taiwan’s CDC set up the Central Epidemic Command Center on 20 January and implemented a series of epidemic control measures as part of containing the spreading of the coronavirus.

The command centre investigates confirmed and suspected cases, as well as coordinates the response across Taiwan with ministries and local governments, including allocating funds, mobilizing personnel, and advising on the disinfection of schools.

“Taiwan has rapidly produced and implemented a list of at least 124 action items in the past five weeks – that’s three to four per day – to protect public health. The policies and actions go beyond border control because they recognized that that’s not enough,” Mr Wang told NBC news.

To secure its border, Taiwan had first suspended entry for all travelers from Wuhan on 26 January – five days after the first confirmed case in the country ahead of other countries. Later, entry restrictions were also imposed on flights from all China cities, and only Taiwanese are allowed to fly in the country.

Use technology to help in reducing the risk of transmission

Apart from that, Taiwan also highly utilised technology to detect the suspected and confirmed patient with Covid-19 to reduce the risk of transmission among the community.

Learning from past experience of the SARS outbreak, a temperature monitor has already been set up at Taiwan’s airport to detect body temperature of visitors.

At the same time, Taiwan’s CDC will also receive data from the passengers who scan a QR code to report their travel history and health symptoms online.

The mandatory home quarantine for 14 days was also imposed on those who come from badly affected areas, and their locations will be tracked by using location sharing on their mobile phone. The people who neglect the quarantine notice or do not report symptoms will get heavy fines.

“The authorities in Taiwan also quickly determine whom the confirmed cases had been in contact with, and then test them, and put them in home quarantine. They also proactively find new cases by retesting those who tested negative,” Mr Wang said.

Ban on exports of face masks

Following the outbreak of coronavirus, the panic-buying situation has set in around the world, with social media flooding with images and videos of people rushing to stockpile essential items.

In view of this, the Taiwan government imposed a ban on exports of face masks and implemented a rationing system, fixing the price at just 16 cents each to ensure sufficient domestic supply of masks.

It was reported that the Taiwanese are not allowed to mail masks overseas. Those who violate this regulation will be fined up to three times the value and their masks will be confiscated.

NBC news said, “It also set up new production lines and dispatched soldiers to staff factories, significantly increasing production. These masks are the tools for residents in Taiwan’s densely populated cities to protect themselves; they made them feel safe and not panic.”

Government’s effort in combating the misinformation

Public education about coronavirus is important as well to curb the misinformation which may raise fears and panic among the public.

Television and radio stations in Taiwan have broadcasted public service announcements on how the virus is spread, the importance of washing hands properly, and when to wear a mask.

“We think only when information is transparent, and people have sufficient medical knowledge, will their fear be reduced,” the government spokesperson told NBC news.

It was reported earlier that Taiwan authorities have accused Chinese internet trolls of sowing virus panic, causing misunderstanding among the public.

Taiwan’s Investigation Bureau investigated disinformation that spread on social media claiming Taiwan has an out-of-control epidemic which is covered up by the country.

Take care of public welfare

In addition, the precautionary measures introduced by Taiwan’s government also supported and received cooperation from schools, corporations, and the members of the public.

The people are required to undergo temperature checking before entering every office building, school, and community sports centres while some apartment buildings also deployed hand sanitizers inside or outside elevators to protect residents from coronavirus infections.

The Taiwanese also benefit from their health insurance during this coronavirus period, where they will get a free test for coronavirus. On top of that, food, lodging, as well as medical care, will be paid for if they are forced to be isolated for 14 days, according to a spokesperson from the Taiwan government.

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