A society of about 24 million people, Taiwan has had only 449 confirmed cases of Covid-19 -- and seven deaths. These numbers are remarkable given that Taiwan is less than 100 miles off the coast of mainland China, where the outbreak initially began. The two sides maintain strong commercial and cultural ties, though relations have grown frosty since the election of Taiwan's current president in 2016.
Taiwan has exported both its expertise and its medical supplies around the world. For world leaders looking to emulate Taiwan's strategy, four factors are key to understanding why it has been successful in the fight against Covid-19.
First, the geopolitical fight between Taiwan and the mainland, officially the People's Republic of China (PRC), which considers the self-governing island a part of its territory, has fueled Taiwanese skepticism of Beijing's claims. Thus, when news of a novel coronavirus in Wuhan initially broke in December 2019, Taiwan did not rely on official Chinese pronouncements that the virus could be controlled and that it could not be transmitted between humans. Instead, it immediately started screening passengers on inbound flights from Wuhan, and moved quickly to identify and isolate any travelers who exhibited symptoms of Covid-19.
Second, Taiwan has had significant experience dealing with respiratory disease outbreaks and learned the lessons in pandemic preparedness and response from them. In particular, it was hit hard by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003 and responded effectively to the H1N1 flu in 2009. Because of Taiwan's experience, authorities there understood the importance of responding to the disease quickly, ensuring the availability of personal protective equipment like masks and putting in place protocols to identify cases of the virus and prevent community spread.
Third, after SARS, Taiwan created the National Health Command Center (NHCC), an entity tasked with coordinating the government's response to health crises. In its response to Covid-19, Taiwanese authorities emphasized transparency and strong coordination and activated an office within the NHCC, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC), to gather and regularly disseminate information about the virus and its effects so that all Taiwanese residents would be kept well-informed. The central government also encouraged a society-wide response to the virus, with the private and public sectors working together to address health crises.
Finally, Taiwan moved quickly and efficiently to deploy appropriate countermeasures against Covid-19. In the absence of a vaccine or effective therapeutics, this meant quickly isolating cases, as well as conducting thorough contact tracing and widespread testing of the population once those diagnostics became available.
Taiwanese authorities also encouraged the universal use of face masks. To make sure people had access to masks, the government ramped up production and controlled their distribution, particularly during the early phase of the