Taiwan’s Covid: How They Passed 200 Days Without a Domestically Transmitted Case

Taiwan's Covid: How They Passed 200 Days Without a Domestically Transmitted Case

Taipei’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been one of the world’s most effective. The island of 23 million people reported a locally transmitted case on April 12, which is Easter. As of Thursday, it has confirmed 553 cases – only 55 of them were local transmissions. Seven deaths were recorded.

Easter was such an important event in the United States because President Donald Trump said a month ago that he wanted the country to be “open and eager to go” by the holiday.
At that point, 1.7 million people were infected and killed by the virus – globally. On Friday, Johns Hopkins University said these numbers had surpassed 45 million cases and more than 1.1 million deaths.
Taiwan’s historic achievement comes in a week in which France and Germany enact new lockdown measures and the United States set a record number of more than 88,000 cases in a single day. Florida, which has a population comparable to Taiwan, with nearly 21 million people, identified 4,188 cases on Wednesday alone.

Taiwan has never had to impose strict lockdown measures. Nor has it resorted to strict restrictions on civil liberties, as is the case in mainland China.

Instead, Taiwan’s response has focused on speed. Taiwanese authorities began screening passengers on direct flights from Wuhan, where the virus was first identified, on December 31, 2019 – when the virus was mostly the subject of rumors and limited reports.

Taiwan confirmed its first reported case of the new coronavirus on January 21 and then banned Wuhan residents from traveling to the island. All passengers arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau have been required to undergo examination.

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All this happened before Wuhan itself closed on January 23. By March, Taiwan had banned all foreign nationals from entering the island, except for diplomats, residents and holders of special entry visas.

But Taiwan has advantages that its Western counterparts do not.

The first is geography – Taiwan is an island, so it is easy for officials to control entry and exit across its borders.

Taiwan also had experience on its side. Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in an interview last month, after suffering from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, Taiwan has worked to build its capacity to deal with the epidemic.

“So, when we heard that there were some clandestine pneumonia cases in China where patients were treated in isolation, we knew it was similar,” he said.

The authorities have activated the central epidemiological command center on the island, which was established in the wake of SARS, to coordinate between different ministries. The government has also ramped up production of face masks and protective equipment to ensure a steady supply of PPE.

The government has also invested in mass testing and fast and efficient contact tracing.

Former Taiwanese Vice President Chen Shinjin, an epidemiologist with training, said the lockdowns are not perfect. Chen also said the kind of extensive testing schemes that are being carried out in mainland China, where millions of people are screened when only a small number of cases are detected, is also unnecessary.

“Very careful contact tracing and very strict quarantine of close contacts is the best way to contain Covid-19,” he said.

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CNN’s Paula Hancock, James Griffiths, and Menekitan Jha contributed to this report.

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