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 had confirmed 553 cases – only 55 of them were local transmissions. Seven deaths were recorded.
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.
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.
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 easier 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.
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 conducted 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.
CNN’s Paula Hancock, James Griffiths, and Menekitan Jha contributed to this report.