Taiwan is one of the few countries to “flatten the curve” while maintaining an open domestic economy. Earlier this week, Taiwan only had 104 active cases of Covid-19. Even more impressive, given its geographic position, is the state only had 27 new cases on March 20.
The key to its success was early action, far earlier than many other countries including New Zealand. While most only reacted to Covid-19 after the first confirmed case (between January and February), Taiwan started its epidemic response on the last day of 2019.
Before the first confirmed case outside China was reported, Taiwan’s Centre for Disease Control immediately set up border restrictions for arrivals from the province of Wuhan. This was followed by a suite of further restrictions on both incoming and outgoing travel and strict mandatory quarantine.
Taiwan’s response was not only quick, it was highly efficient and effective. It had prepared exceptional epidemiological and health infrastructure as a key lesson from the 2003 SARS epidemic. Screening tools such as temperature monitoring, track and trace technology and protective equipment was already in place for the next pandemic.
Moreover, to ensure its healthcare system did not collapse, Taiwan mobilised greater hospital ICU capacity with 20,000 isolation rooms combined with 14,000 ventilators. With Taiwan’s population of 23.8 million, this would be the equivalent in New Zealand of 3400 isolation rooms and 2400 ventilators. Presently, New Zealand only has 520 ventilators.
It is no surprise then that Bloomberg’s 2018 Healthcare Efficiency Index, ranked Taiwan’s healthcare system in the top 10. New Zealand is just behind at 15.
In contrast to South Korea, Taiwan did not implement high-volume testing. Instead it concentrated on efficient track and tracing that utilised a nationally integrated database between the Immigration Agency and the National Health Insurance Administration in combination with GPS tracking on smartphones. Taiwan’s CDC has tracked 2761 close contacts related to Covid-19.
As a result of Taiwan’s response to Covid-19 the IMF estimates its economy will contract by 4.0% over 2020. This compares with contractions of 5.9% for the US, 7.2% for New Zealand and 7.0% for Germany.
While New Zealand appears to have Covid-19 under control, Taiwan provides lessons on what to do to prepare for the next pandemic. Taiwan was able to avoid lockdown and maintain an open domestic economy because it acted quickly and effectively because it learned from previous crises.
New Zealand must do the same to ensure the next pandemic does not catch the system off guard again.