Taipei’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been one of the most effective in the world. The island of 23 million people last reported a locally transmitted case on April 12, Easter Sunday. As of Thursday, he had confirmed 553 cases – of which only 55 were local transmissions. Seven deaths have been recorded.
Easter was a milestone in the United States as President Donald Trump had said a month earlier that he wanted the country to “open up and be ready to go” by the holidays.
By this point, 1.7 million people had been infected and 110,000 had been killed by the virus – worldwide. As of Friday, those numbers were around 45 million cases and more than 1.1 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Taiwan has never had to adopt strict lockdowns. Nor has it resorted to drastic restrictions on civil liberties, as 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 – at a time 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, then banned residents of Wuhan from visiting the island. All passengers from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao were required to go through screening.
This all happened before Wuhan went into lockdown on January 23. In March, Taiwan banned all foreign nationals from entering the island except diplomats, residents, and those with special entry visas.
But Taiwan has advantages that its Western counterparts do not.
One is geography – Taiwan is an island, so it’s easier for officials to control entry and exit through its borders.
Taiwan also had experience on its side. After suffering from the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003, Taiwan has worked to strengthen its capacity to cope with a pandemic, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in an interview last month.
“So when we heard that there were secret cases of pneumonia in China where patients were being treated in isolation, we knew it was something similar,” he said.
The authorities activated the island’s central epidemic command center, which was set up in the aftermath of SARS, to ensure coordination between different ministries. The government also ramped up production of face masks and protective gear to ensure there would be a steady supply of PPE.
The government has also invested in mass testing and rapid and efficient contact tracing.
Former Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen, who is a trained epidemiologist, said the lockdowns were not ideal. Chen also said that the type of mass testing programs undertaken in mainland China, where millions of people are tested when a handful of cases are detected, is also unnecessary.
“Very careful contact tracing and very strict close contact quarantines are the best way to contain Covid-19,” he said.
CNN’s Paula Hancocks, James Griffiths and Meenketan Jha contributed to this report.