Taiwan has proved that it fully understands the nature of the threat.
The port city of Keelung on the far north of Northern Taiwan surrounded by the mountains from the land seems to be isolated from the rest of the country. But this natural barrier was not sufficient to protect Taiwan against the spread of the deadly manufactured bacteria that first infected Chinese in the city of Wuhan with its infamous secret military biological laboratories. On January 31, the cruise ship Princess Diamond landed in the port of Keelung. Dozens of the passengers disembarked before the ship left for Japan. Two days later Japanese doctors diagnosed the first passenger with the coronavirus. To calm public concerned about community spread the Taiwan health authorities published 50 locations where the cruise ship tourists may have visited. It also asked citizens who may have been in contact with the tour group to conduct symptom monitoring and self-quarantine if necessary. None were confirmed to have Covid-19, as WHO called the coronavirus, after 14 days had passed.
Hard lessons learnt during the SARS epidemic
Taiwan was not new to the epidemic with the unnatural virus characteristics. In March of 2013, a 70 years old male patient could not catch a breath, but the symptoms of his illness were identical to typical influenza. It was known that the sickness originated in Communist China. But Beijing not only denied any assistance to Taiwan but blocked access to the information from the World Health Organisation. Between March and June, 668 Taiwanese had severe acute respiratory syndrome known today as SARS. Nearly 200, mostly elderly died.
The SARS infection hit Taiwan unprepared. The government did not want to repeat the same mistake, explains Dr Jason Wang, who is an author of pandemic prevention plan for Taiwan. “The Taiwan government established the National Health Command Center after SARS, and it’s become part of a disaster management centre that focuses on large-outbreak responses and acts as the operational command point for direct communications,” stated Dr Wang.
On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organisation was notified of pneumonia of unknown cause in Wuhan, China. On the day Taiwanese officials began to board planes, and assess passengers on direct flights from Wuhan for fever and pneumonia symptoms before passengers could deplane. Three days later, a notification was expanded to include any individual who had travelled to Wuhan in the past 14 days and had a fever or symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection at the point of entry. Suspected cases were screened for twenty-six viruses including SARS, and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). Passengers displaying symptoms of fever and coughing were quarantined at home and assessed whether medical attention at a hospital was necessary.
The specialists from National Health Command Center helped to implement 124 policies to prevent epidemic. Government banned Wuhan residents, and required Chinese visitors to undergo a detailed health check before entering the country. Tour groups and travels to China were suspended until late April. Taiwan leveraged its national health insurance database and integrated it with its immigration and customs database to begin the creation of big data for analytics; it generated real-time alerts during a clinical visit based on travel history and clinical symptoms to aid case identification.
Proactive testing of the highest threat groups
It also used new technology, including QR code scanning and online reporting of travel history and health symptoms to classify travellers’ infectious risks based on flight origin and travel history in the past 14 days. Persons with low risk (no travel to the highest risk areas like Macau or Hong Kong ) were sent a health declaration border pass via SMS (short message service) messaging to their phones for faster immigration clearance; those with higher risk (recent travel to highest risk areas) were quarantined at home and tracked through their mobile phone to ensure that they remained at home during the incubation period. “In Taiwan, diverse political parties were willing to work together to produce an immediate response to the danger,” emphasised Professor Robert. H Brook from the School of Medicine of the University of California.
Was this strategy successful? Until now Taiwan, which is closely connected with Communist China, has only 45 confirmed cases of the Covid-19, coronavirus infections. Only one, elderly individual with other medical preexistent conditions, died. Australia, with its relatively strict health policies, has 74 confirmed cases. Three people died. Europe has seen a precipitous rise of the cases in recent weeks, with infections topping 6,000 in Italy and more than 1400 cases reported in both Germany and France, as of Sunday.
Governments are learning the winning strategy
There are signs that the governments around the world started to pay closer attention to the expertise of the Taiwan government. The latest country in Europe which will follow the example is the Czech Republic. Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib on Friday passed the information on managing the novel coronavirus which he received from the Taiwanese government. It included a guide for Big Data Analysis, New Technology and Proactive Testing, which helped to identify frequent travellers and other Taiwanese and residents with connections to the most affected areas. The education materials on hygiene issued by Central Epidemic Command Center, that is a heart and mind of the counter-epidemic strategies in Taiwan, were also included.
No doubt the Czech government will succeed in stopping the virus and reinforces trust and faith in the democratic institutions. According to the latest polls, the Taiwanese are hugely impressed with the response. Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s approval ratings are up to 68.5 per cent, and 82 per cent of Taiwanese think the government has handled the crisis well.
Chinese Communist Party want to steal the credit
Communist China is the only one unimpressed by Taiwan’s handling of the crisis. Its reactions are not forgivable but understandable. Beijing has tried to steal credit for his non-achievement. It was Communist China that allowed or caused the dangerous virus to escape the military laboratory in Wuhan. After former Israeli defence officials first shared this opinion with Washington Times, on Friday a National Security Council of Ukraine official confirmed it. “We are convinced this is China’s problem and they understand it very well, so they have taken powerful steps to locate the virus”, stated Council’s Secretary Oleksey Danylov. “They closed the Wuhan City because they knew what was happening there”, concluded Mr Danylov.
Taiwan has proved that it fully understands the nature of the threat, and its President Ms Tsai offered specialised help to the countries around the world.