TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel on Thursday (March 5) praised Taiwan's efforts to contain the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19).
In an article titled, "How Taiwan prevented the COVID-19 outbreak — and the WHO does not want to know about it," by Richard Friebe, the author asserted that Taiwan only had 42 cases of the virus by March 3, "news that borders on sensation."
The author pointed out that given that nearly 1 million Taiwanese travel regularly to Communist China and almost 3 million Chinese tourists visit the island nation annually, scientific models predicted in January that Taiwan would be one of the worst-hit nations by now.
Friebe said that Taiwan defied the odds because it was "better prepared than anyone else" and acted more effectively. He wrote the population agreed with government measures and that "there was no panic," and he suggested that the country's efforts could serve as a model for other nations to "save many lives now."
The author wrote that Taiwan learned its lessons from the SARS crisis and established a National Health Command Center (NHCC) to act as the central coordination point that oversees key organizations such as the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), the Biological Pathogen Disaster Command Center, Counter-Bioterrorism Command Center, and the Central Medical Emergency Operations Center. Friebe added that Health Minister and CECC Head Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), a physician, scientist, and expert on infectious disease, is at the helm.
Friebe wrote that Taiwan's swift response at the start of the outbreak was critical. On Dec. 31 the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that a new wave of pneumonia cases caused by an unknown source was breaking out in Wuhan.
That same day, officials in Taipei boarded planes and began to examine passengers arriving from Wuhan, wrote Friebe. By Jan. 5, teams began to search for people who had returned from Wuhan over the previous 14 days and had a fever or signs of a respiratory infection.
As no tests were available at the time, patients were examined for 26 viruses including SARS and MERS. Individuals who had symptoms were quarantined and regularly visited by doctors at their homes to determine if hospital stays were needed.
On Jan. 27, officials decided to compare data from the National Health Insurance (NHI) system and the National Immigration Agency (NIA) for both Taiwanese and foreigners. This way it was possible for the government to pinpoint who had been in high-risk areas over the previous two weeks, according to Friebe.
Those who were at high-risk due to their recent travel history were placed under home quarantine. Friebe wrote that these people were then "electronically monitored" through their smartphones.
Early in February, a face mask rationing system was implemented in which residents were limited to two masks per adult per week and were required to present their NHI card. Taiwan banned the export of masks and then rapidly ramped up production of high-proof alcohol for disinfection, protective clothing, and surgical face masks.
Friebe then pointed out the fact that because the WHO follows Beijing's lead and considers Taiwan part of Communist China, it has often been mistaken by other countries as high-risk, and its citizens have faced arbitrary travel bans. He then stated that Taiwan has "de facto" been denied access to international aid measures because all international organizations follow the "one China policy" and that assistance intended for Taiwan must be approved by Beijing first.
He wrote that Taiwan's authorities do not receive the "important, constantly updated information from the WHO directly." Friebe added that Taiwan does not have direct access to much other current data relating to the COVID-19 crisis because much of this is only available to U.N. member states, including the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which has been swift to block any support for Taiwan's membership on social media.
Despite these drawbacks, thanks to its superior containment of the outbreak, Taiwan has suffered less in the way of economic blows from the crisis compared to its neighbors in East Asia. Also unlike its East Asian neighbors, no schools, universities, or public facilities have had to close.