How has Taiwan managed to keep the pandemic at bay?

Pandemic Jul 26, 2021

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In 2020 while the whole world was battling with covid-19, Taiwan was functioning normally throughout the year. Malls, schools, trains and restaurants were all open and people were going on with their lives just as usual. This is surprising because experts predicted that Taiwan would be one of the worst-hit countries, being the 9th most densely populated nation in the world.

Despite this, throughout the year 2020 Taiwan only had seven deaths caused by covid-19. So the biggest question is how did Taiwan manage to hold-off the pandemic, when the whole world was suffering from it.

Taiwan adopted a very effective tactic in the beginning of 2020 for every international passenger arriving in the country. Once the passengers landed in Taiwan the quarantine procedure began then and there. The bags and all the other belongings are sprayed. And then the passengers have to take a quarantine taxi that takes them straight to the hotel where they are supposed to spend 14 days in quarantine.

These taxis are special taxis and are used especially for the purpose of quarantine. Once the passenger reaches the hotel they are instructed by the staff about the rules via a video call and are sent to their rooms through a reserved elevator. The hotel staff program the elevator to stop at the designated floor. The passengers are advised to avoid touching any surface before entering their rooms. According to statistics, almost half a million people entered Taiwan during 2020 and went through this mandatory quarantine.

However, this all changed in May 2021. After a year of complete normalcy, Taiwan faced its worst outbreak of the pandemic. This raises the question of how Taiwan managed to remain safe from covid-19 for such a long time, and what changed that the measures taken weren't enough to prevent the outbreak of the pandemic anymore.

Taiwan has a governing body called CECC (Central Epidemic Control Centre) which becomes the decision maker in situations such as covid-19 pandemic. Followed by the pandemic CECC was activated officially in Taiwan in January 2020. CECC has the authority to share information across agencies, and they were able to easily integrate the data of passengers travelling into Taiwan with their health data. It’s important to note that Taiwan is one of the countries that provides free healthcare to their citizens and have issued smart cards which makes it easier to access information.

So the CECC cross checked the data of the passengers travelling to Taiwan with the data available through health care smart cards. This was easy because statistics suggest that most people entering Taiwan at the time had citizenship of the nation, and thus had their healthcare smart cards made in advance which includes all of their medical history. To narrow it down, CECC was looking into people who had some medical history that can make them easily prone to the virus.

This integrated data helped CECC to analyse which passengers were more likely to be affected by covid-19 and using this people were transferred into two categories of high risk and low risk. This data was sent to the citizens using their smart cards. People in the low risk category were advised to wear masks and carry on their life normally, whereas the people who were considered high risk were sent into a 2 weeks quarantine. Because of this Taiwan didn’t have to go into lockdown.

However, this changed in 2021 when the cases almost doubled. The reason was simple, Taiwan had loosened its quarantine system which implied that more incoming infected people were being unnoticed. As of now Taiwan is still bringing the outbreak under control. Vaccine is the answer to all our ails, however, there's a very important lesson to learn from the steps of Taiwan in the beginning of the pandemic to avoid any such situations in the future.

This article has been written by Ritika Pandey for The Paradigm.

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