Confirmed cases under 50 . . .
Taiwan, located across the strait from the epicentre of the global COVID-19 pandemic, recently confirmed its 48th case. Compared to Japan’s 1,277 and South Korea’s 7,755 cases, Taiwan’s low case count is striking considering its close ties with China: hundreds of thousands of Taiwanese citizens live and work in China, and the island received 2.7 million Chinese visitors last year. Taiwan’s government took aggressive measures beginning in December, when health officials began boarding planes arriving from Wuhan to check passengers for symptoms. By the end of January, Taiwan had halted all exports of medical masks to maintain supplies at home. In early February, as cases in China continued rise, Taiwan’s government was amongst the first to issue a travel ban on foreign nationals who had recently visited China.
Lack of international recognition . . .
Taiwan’s success in fighting the coronavirus brings its continued international isolation into sharp relief. Officials in Taiwan have long complained about the difficulty of accessing time-sensitive information from the World Health Organization (WHO), as the organization continues to deny Taiwan membership. Taipei’s frustration came to a head in February when the Philippines briefly issued a ban against Taiwanese travellers in accordance with the WHO’s designation of Taiwan – as a part of China – as “very high risk.” On Wednesday, Taiwan’s government issued an objection to Johns Hopkins University labelling Taiwan as "Taipei and environs, China" on its virus-tracker map.
Lessons from Taiwan . . .
In contrast, the governments of both South Korea and Japan have faced criticism over their delayed responses to the outbreak. Part of their concern was the economy: Chinese and Korean tourists, for example, account for about half of all tourists to Japan. Amidst public school closures and concerns over the viability of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Japan announced travel restrictions on visitors from China and South Korea last week. One lesson from Taiwan’s experience is that there are many ways to tackle a pandemic. As a recently published medical journal article notes, Taiwan’s 124-item coronavirus action plan includes mobile phone tracking, big data analytics, and QR code scanning. As Canada battles its own outbreak, the success story in Taiwan may offer valuable lessons.