Taiwan Covid: How They Walked 200 Days Without a Locally Broadcast Case

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, it had confirmed 553 cases – only 55 of which were local broadcasts. Seven deaths were recorded.

Easter was a major milestone in the United States because President Donald Trump had said a month earlier that he wanted the country to be “opened up and rarely left” by the US vacation.
At that point there had been 1.7 million people infected and 110,000 had been killed by the virus – worldwide. According to Johns Hopkins University, those numbers had passed 45 million cases and more than 1.1 million deaths as of Friday.
Taiwan’s milestone comes in a week, though France and Germany issue new bans and identified the United States a record of more than 88,000 cases per day. The state of Florida, which has a population similar to Taiwan with around 21 million people, identified 4,188 cases on Wednesday alone.

Taiwan has never had to impose strict bans. There were also no drastic restrictions on civil liberties as in mainland China.

Instead, Taiwan’s response focused on speed. Taiwanese authorities began screening passengers on direct flights from Wuhan, where the virus was first identified, on December 31, 2019 – back when the virus was mainly the subject of rumors and limited reports.

Taiwan confirmed its first reported case of the novel coronavirus on Jan. 21 and banned Wuhan residents from entering the island. All passengers arriving from mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau were required to undergo screening.

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All of this happened before Wuhan itself was locked on January 23rd. Until March, Taiwan banned all foreigners from entering the island, with the exception of diplomats, residents, and those with special entry visas.

But Taiwan has advantages that its counterparts in the West do not have.

One of them 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. After suffering the fatal outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Taiwan worked to expand its pandemic management capability, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said in an interview last month.

“When we heard that there were some secret pneumonia cases 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 as part of SARS to ensure coordination between different ministries. The government has also ramped up production of face masks and protective equipment to ensure a steady supply of PPE.

The government also invested in bulk Testing and quick and effective contact tracing.

Former Taiwanese Vice President Chen Chien-jen, a trained epidemiologist, said lockdowns are not ideal. Chen also said the type of mass tests that are done in mainland China, which screen millions of people when a handful of cases are discovered, are also unnecessary.

“Very careful contact tracing and very strict quarantines of close contacts are the best way to contain Covid-19,” he said.

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CNN’s Paula Hancocks, James Griffiths and Meenketan Jha contributed to this report.

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