A closer look at Taiwan's efforts to tackle COVID-19

A closer look at Taiwan's efforts to tackle COVID-19

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, dummies were installed in spectator stands during the first professional baseball league match at the the Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium in Taoyuan, Taiwan on Saturday (April 11, 2020). (REUTERS/ANN WANG) 

The threat of emerging infectious diseases to global health, economy, trade, and tourism refuses to die out.

Pandemics can spread rapidly across the world due to the ease of international transportation.

Salient examples of global pandemics include the Spanish flu of 1918, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2003, and the H1N1 influenza of 2009.

Intermittently, serious regional epidemics have also reared their heads. They include the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which broke out in 2012; Ebola, which plagued West Africa in 2014; and, the Zika virus, which spread across Central and South America in 2016.

Today, a new type of coronavirus that first emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019 has caused a global pandemic. The infection caused by the virus has since been classified as the coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19.

As per World Health Organization (WHO) data, 2,241,359 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 152,551 deaths have been reported globally as of April 19, 2020. Taiwan is among the economies which have not been spared by the virus.

In the 17 years since it was hit hard by the SARS outbreak, Taiwan has been in a state of constant readiness to the threat of emerging infectious diseases, Taiwan's Minister of Health and Welfare, Chen Shih-chung, noted in a written statement, issued by the Taipei Economic and Trade Office (TETO), received here on Tuesday.

According to Chen, as soon as the coronavirus outbreak was first confirmed on December 31, 2019, Taiwan began implementing onboard quarantine on direct flights from Wuhan the same day.

On January 2, 2020, Taiwan established a response team for the disease and activated its Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) on January 20.

The CECC is equipped to integrate resources from various ministries and invest itself fully in the containment of the epidemic, according to Taiwan's Ministry of Health and Welfare.

As of April 9, Taiwan had tested a total of 42,315 persons and recorded 380 confirmed cases, of which 54 were indigenous and 326 imported. Of the total COVID-19 patients, five died, while 80 were released from hospital after testing negative.

Despite its proximity to China, Taiwan ranked 123rd among 183 economies in terms of confirmed cases per million people. This shows that Taiwan's aggressive efforts to control the epidemic have worked.

Disease knows no borders. In response to the COVID-19 threat, Taiwan has implemented dynamic plans for border quarantine measures, including onboard quarantine, fever screening, health declarations, and a 14-day home quarantine for passengers arriving from nations it has listed under Level 3 Warning.

Moreover, Taiwan has established an electronic system for quarantine, which allows passengers with a local mobile phone number to fill in health information via mobile phone upon entering the country. A health declaration pass is then sent to them via text message.

This system is connected to the community care support management system, which allows government agencies to provide care services and medical assistance, Minister Chen stated.

Furthermore, individuals’ travel history is now stored on the National Health Insurance (NHI) card to alert physicians to possible cases and prevent community transmission.

"For those undergoing home quarantine or isolation, the government is working with telecommunication operators to allow GPS tracking of their locations. Quarantine offenders are subject to fines or mandatory placement according to relevant laws and regulations, so as to prevent transmission," Chen explained.

Taiwan has also increased its laboratory testing capacity, expanded the scope of its surveillance and inspections based on trends of the COVID-19 epidemic, and retested people with higher risk who had already tested negative, including patients with symptoms of severe influenza, community cases with upper respiratory tract infections who were already being monitored, and cluster cases of upper respiratory tract infections, to identify and isolate suspected cases.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has designated 50 regional hospitals and medical centers and 167 community hospitals and clinics to create a tiered system for testing.

The hospitals and clinics are required to set up special wards or areas. In principle, COVID-19 patients are isolated and treated individually in such wards to prevent nosocomial infections.

In addition, Taiwan has banned the export of surgical masks since January 24, requisitioned masks, and expanded domestic mask production.

On February 6, Taiwan launched a name-based rationing system for mask purchases at NHI-contracted pharmacies and local public health agencies.

It added an ordering system for masks on March 12 which allows people to order masks online and pick them up at convenience stores.

Such measures have helped the nation to effectively allocate limited resources to meet healthcare, epidemic prevention, household, and industrial needs.

In addition to internal measures, Taiwan has also fulfilled its responsibilities under the International Health Regulations 2005 (IHR 2005) by notifying the WHO of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Besides, Taiwan has asked some countries, such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States, Canada, Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, to share information on confirmed cases, travel and contact histories of patients, and border control measures.

Taiwan has also uploaded the genetic sequence of COVID-19 to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID).

A crisis anywhere can easily become a problem everywhere. Global health security requires the involvement of all people to ensure an optimal response to public health threats and challenges.  

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