This island country has defeated COVID-19

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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People in Taiwan are almost back into their pre-pandemic routine

If you were to travel to Taiwan now, you may need to give yourselves a shake as nobody can blame you for thinking that you have stepped back in time.

Unlike in any other part of the world, in Taiwan you are likely to witness large lines of people in the streets as they wait to enjoy meals at their favorite restaurants. The nearby parks are filled with large groups of young people exercising and practicing dance routines.

In fact, there are very few signs that this is 2020 and the planet is in the grip of a raging pandemic.

Even as the number of reported cases of COVID-19 exceeds 30 million in the world, Taiwan’s residents seem to be secure in the knowledge that, from mid-April, only one case has been suspected of local transmission in the area.

There have been only 500 confirmed cases and 7 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic in Taiwan, an island with a population of about 23 million people. This unbelievable victory over the pandemic is despite the fact that it is just 130 kilometers (81 miles) from China, the country where the virus was detected first.

How did they achieve it?

Taiwan has been effective in controlling the virus and speed has been one of the key factors. The leaders of the island acted quickly as unconfirmed rumors circulated about a dangerous virus and its patients having to be isolated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The country had learned a great deal about a fatal outbreak when it suffered from the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, helping them to act quickly this time around.

Even before the seriousness of the virus was officially recognized in China, Taiwan’s health authorities started screening passengers arriving from Wuhan and there were additional early travel restrictions.

As the world waited for more information, Taiwan had activated its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), which coordinates various ministries in an emergency and had called in the military to increase the production of masks and Personal Protection Kits (PPE).

All this happened even before Wuhan itself went into lockdown on January 23. And by March, Taiwan had prohibited all visitors from foreign nations, apart from diplomats, people with resident visas and special entry visas.

Those initial, early responses to China’s outbreak and the ability to take action were crucial to preventing the spread of the virus in Taiwan, potentially saving thousands of lives.

This success also shows that being honest with the people helps, says Taiwan’s Foreign Minister Wu and outside experts. Wu said they gave “regular briefings, every day and often twice a day, to update the public in a very straightforward way about what was going on” and this built confidence for the people in the government.

This confidence, according to Wu, helped to ensure that masks were worn, hands were washed and quarantines respected.

Gradual opening up

Taiwan has been great in closing down the country in an emergency and now it is taking one step at a time to open it borders.

In June, Taiwan established a shorter quarantine period for business visitors from countries considered to be at low or medium risk. This requires visitors to undergo a pre-boarding test to show that they are negative within 72 hours of traveling, then a quarantine test on day 5, after which they are allowed to leave isolation and self-monitor for the next 2 weeks.

Taiwan’s government is now considering a study on international travel to examine the benefits of short quarantine periods with more frequent testing. They say travel corridors are a vital way of reviving economies around the world. Taiwan aims to study travelers arriving in the country to check the efficiency and practicalities of shorter quarantines.

Because the world still needs to reopen at one point and it may not be 100 percent protected even with a vaccine.