Taiwan is only 81 miles off the coast of mainland China and was expected to be hard hit by the coronavirus, due to its proximity and the number of flights between the island nation and its massive neighbor to the west.
Taiwan so far managed to prevent the coronavirus from heavily impacting its 23 million citizens, despite hundreds of thousands of them working and residing in China.
According to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases map, as of Tuesday there were only 42 cases and one death in Taiwan, far behind China, with more than 80,000 cases and more than 2,900 deaths. The country also lags far behind its other Asian neighbors and ranks 17th in the world for the number of global cases. As of this writing, South Korea was second, with 5,186 cases; followed by Iran with 2,336 and Italy with 2,036 people infected with the virus.
The United States currently stands at 107 known cases and six deaths.
The viral outbreak in China occurred just before the Lunar New Year, during which time millions of Chinese and Taiwanese were expected to travel for the holidays.
So what steps did Taiwan take to protect its people? And could those steps be replicated here at home?
Stanford Health Policy’s Jason Wang, MD, PhD, an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine who also has a PhD in policy analysis, credits his native Taiwan with using new technology and a robust pandemic prevention plan put into place at the 2003 SARS outbreak.
“The Taiwan government established the National Health Command Center (NHCC) after SARS and it’s become part of a disaster management center that focuses on large-outbreak responses and acts as the operational command point for direct communications,” said Wang, a pediatrician and the director of the Center for Policy, Outcomes, and Prevention at Stanford. The NHCC also established the Central Epidemic Command Center, which was activated in early January.
“And Taiwan rapidly produced and implemented a list of at least 124 action items in the past five weeks to protect public health,” Wang said. “The policies and actions go beyond border control because they recognized that that wasn’t enough.”
Wang outlines the measures Taiwan took in the last six weeks in an article published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“Given the continual spread of COVID-19 around the world, understanding the action items that were implemented quickly in Taiwan, and the effectiveness of these actions in preventing a large-scale epidemic, may be instructive for other countries,” Wang and his co-authors wrote.
Within the last five weeks, Wang said, the Taiwan epidemic command center rapidly implemented those 124 action items, including border control from the air and sea, case identification using new data and technology, quarantine of suspicious cases, educating the public while fighting misinformation, negotiating with other countries — and formulating policies for schools and businesses to follow.