How Taiwan and New Zealand handle COVID-19 outbreak, compared to Singapore

Singapore was once praised for its ‘gold standard’ approach in dealing the coronavirus pandemic, but now is seeing a rise in local transmissions due to the cases that were linked to migrant worker dormitories.

Taiwan has managed to keep the number of cases relatively low despite being geographically close to mainland China – the epicentre of the coronavirus.

New Zealand, on the other hand, has declared victory in battling the outbreak as the country reported zero cases close to three weeks.

What are the COVID-19 measures that have been taken by each of these three countries?

Taiwan took early prevention of COVID-19 disease

Taiwan’s success in preventing the coronavirus outbreak is “no coincidence”, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen remarked in TIME’s article on 16 April. The country took early prevention measures after a few cases of pneumonia were reported in Wuhan, China.

On 31 December, Taiwan officials began inspecting inbound flights from Wuhan for fever and pneumonia symptoms. Less than a week later, all individuals who had travelled to Wuhan in the past 14 days were being monitored.

Suspected cases were screened for 26 viruses, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), while those who are tested positive were quarantined. The safety measures in airports gradually expanded to flights from China and other countries by March.

Taiwanese Government also sets up its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) as early as on 20 January to handle the prevention measures of the coronavirus.

Upon confirming its first case of COVID-19 on 21 January, a level 3 alert to Wuhan was immediately issued and all Taiwanese citizens were advised to avoid non-essential travels to Wuhan.

A few days later (24 January), Taiwanese Government announced an export ban on face masks to ensure domestic supply and lowered the price of face masks to NT$5 per piece.

While other countries succumbed to panic buying of face masks, the Taiwanese Government responded quickly by monitoring market spikes in commodities and taking over the production and distribution of medical-grade masks.

It requisitioned all surgical face masks and instituted a mask rationing system where each person only allowed to buy two masks at a convenience store. Taiwan also ramped up the production of surgical face masks to 10 million per day in February.

When the country hits only 10 cases of COVID-19, the reopening of schools in Taiwan – for primary and secondary schools – was postponed to 25 February, followed by universities and colleges.

On 19 March, Taiwan closed its borders to all foreign tourist, while those who are allowed to enter the country will be mandated to undergo a 14-day quarantine regardless of their travel history.

The country halted large events on 25 March in which all indoor events of more than 100 people and outdoor events of more than 500 people were suspended. At the time, the country recorded a total of 235 COVID-19 cases.

Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that wearing face masks won’t guarantee protection from the virus, the Taiwanese Government made it compulsory for all users of public transport to wear face masks. It also pushed for a one-metre social distancing rule for outdoors and 1.5-metre social distancing for indoors.

Furthermore, a temporary export ban was issued on hand sanitizers and disinfectants on 1 May. The decision was made after the Government noticed that other countries were facing shortages of such items amid the pandemic.

At the time of writing, Taiwan recorded 443 infected cases of COVID-19 and seven death tolls.

 

New Zealand’s ‘go hard, go early’ strategy to combat COVID-19

When New Zealand hits 102 infected cases of COVID-19 in March, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern remarked, “We’re going hard and we’re going early.”

The Minister’s ‘go early, go hard’ strategy in battling the COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in victory as the country began a phased exit from its lockdown recently.

The nation’s COVID-19 response was relatively quick as the Government banned the entry of visitors arriving from China on 2 February, despite the country recorded no infected cases at the time.

Mandatory quarantine was imposed on all inbound travellers when New Zealand had recorded just six cases of the coronavirus on 14 March. When the number of cases increased to 52 on 19 March, foreigners were banned from entering the country.

Ms Ardern noted that New Zealand will follow the Taiwanese model “very closely” and suspended public events that are held indoors or attract crowds.

In March, the Government introduced a country-wide alert level system that specifies measures to be taken against the outbreak. The alert level system consists of four levels, with level one being the least risk of infection and level four the highest.

In level one, border measures, contact tracing and suspension of mass gatherings were activated. The risk is growing in level two, as the country increased its border measures and cancellation of events.

Level three indicated that the disease highly difficult to contain and the Government will close down public venues including schools and non-essential businesses. In level four, only essential services are allowed to open while educational facilities are all closed down and people are instructed to stay at home as travel would be severely limited.

New Zealand entered a level three lockdown on 23 March and proceeded to a level four lockdown after 48 hours, although the country only had 102 cases of COVID-19 by that time.

The Government also launched a contact tracing app called NZ COVID Tracer in May, which acts as a “digital diary” that will help to keep track of the users’ movement.

Meanwhile, Ms Ardern announced on 8 June that the country will move to the most relaxed alert level – level one – after 75 days of being in a COVID-19 alert. Overall, New Zealand has recorded a total of 1,504 infected cases and 22 fatalities as of 11 June.

Singapore’s approach to tackle COVID-19 outbreak

Singapore’s approach to dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak was once hailed as the ‘gold standard’ by many countries as it imposed stringent travel restrictions and leave “no stone unturned” in tracing every COVID-19 cases.

But now the country’s COVID-19 cases rocketed as a wave of infections emerged among its massive migrant workers’ population. National Development Minister Lawrence Wong explained the explosion of cases among migrant workers was a lack of the “benefit of hindsight”.

Singapore’s first approach was to implement temperature screening at Changi airport for inbound travellers from Wuhan, China beginning from 3 January. While its first case of COVID-19 emerged on 23 January.

Subsequently, all Chinese visitors and foreigners with a recent travel history to China were banned from entering the country from 1 February onwards. At the same time, the Government also distributed four surgical face masks to each 1.3 million households across Singapore.

At the end of January, after stores ran out of stock of masks, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) released five million masks from the national stockpile to retailers to help them replenish their stocks. However, even those were snapped up in a matter of hours.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong reiterated on 30 January that “there is no need to wear a mask” if a person is well. Mr Lee, however, took a “u-turn” on 3 April stating that the authorities will “no longer discourage people from wearing masks”. This came after the WHO announced to review the issue of face masks.

On 7 February, the Government raised the country’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) – a framework used to guide the officials to manage outbreaks – to Orange following the three cases of coronavirus of unknown origin.

Following that, employers were required to conduct daily health checks at the workplace such as temperature-taking and screening for respiratory symptoms; inter-school and external school activities were suspended until further notice; and restrictions on visitors to pre-schools, eldercare and social services and facilities.

The Multi-Ministry Taskforce also introduced a new Stay-Home-Notice (SHN) for Singapore residents and long-term pass holders returning from mainland China, which took effect on 18 February. Subsequently, all travellers returning from other ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom in the past two weeks will be issued a 14-day SHN.

The Government imposed stricter measures on 26 March which limit gatherings outside of work and school to 10 persons or fewer, while all bars and entertainment venues were shuttered.

Schools were progressively transit to a blended learning model beginning on 1 April as the Ministry of Education (MOE) announced to implement Home-Based Learning (HBL). At the time, the country’s COVID-19 cases had surpassed 1,000 cases.

As the country hits 1,114 cases on 3 April, the Government imposed its “circuit breaker” that tightened restrictions on the people’s movements and gatherings. All workplaces except those of essential services and key sectors were also closed down to curb the local transmission of the virus.

The Government gazetted two migrant worker dormitories – S11 Dormitory @ Punggol and Westlite Toh Guan – as isolation areas on 5 April, and several other dormitories were also gradually being gazetted.

Additionally, the country aimed to test all 323,000 migrant workers staying in dormitories for the COVID-19. Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad reported on 4 June that over 32,000 healthy migrant workers were moved into temporary accommodations. By that time, Singapore has recorded 36,922 COVID-19 cases.

The Government, however, has decided to exit the circuit breaker when it ends on 1 June, with the assurance that the daily number of new community cases has declined significantly and the dormitory situation has stabilized.

Singapore reported a total of 39,387 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 25 fatalities at the time of writing.

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