On January 25, when the world was still aware of the potential danger of a new corona virus that spread rapidly from central China, two governments noted four new infections in their region.
Australia and Taiwan have populations of almost the same size of around 24 million people, both islands, allowing tight control over who crosses their borders, and both have strong trade and transportation links with mainland China. Eleven weeks from that date, Australia has more than 6,000 confirmed cases, while Taiwan has less than 400 cases
The question is not what is wrong with Australia but how Taiwan keeps the virus under control when other parts of the world do not.
Lessons that are difficult to learn
During a severe outbreak of acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, Taiwan among the hardest hit regions, along with Hong Kong and southern China. More than 150,000 people were quarantined on the island – 180 kilometers off the southeast coast of China – and 181 people were killed.
While SARS is now nothing compared to the current crisis, SARS sent shock waves to most of Asia and provided a long shadow of how people respond to future outbreaks.
This helps many parts of the region react more quickly to current coronavirus outbreaks and takes danger more seriously than in other parts of the world, both at the government and community level, with border controls and wearing face masks is fast becoming a routine as early as January in many areas.
Taiwan has a world-class health care system, with universal coverage. When news of the coronavirus began to emerge from Wuhan ahead of the Chinese New Year, officials at the Taiwan National Health Command Center (NHCC) – established after SARS – moved quickly to respond to potential threats, according to a recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
“Taiwan quickly produces and implements a list at least 124 action items in the past five weeks to protect public health, “reports co-author Jason Wang, a Taiwanese doctor and professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine, words in a statement. “Policies and actions go beyond border controls because they recognize that that is not enough.”
This happens when other countries are still debating whether to take action. In a study done in January, Johns Hopkins University said Taiwan is one of the most risky regions outside mainland China – because of its proximity, ties and transportation links.
Early actions and punishment
Among the decisive initial steps were the decision to ban travel from many parts of China, stop cruise ships that dock at the island’s harbor, and introduce strict penalties for anyone found violating home quarantine orders.
In addition, Taiwanese officials are also moving to increase domestic face mask production to ensure local supply, launch island-wide testing for coronavirus – including retesting people who previously had unexplained pneumonia – and announce new penalties for spreading disinformation about virus.
Official on the island has been confiscated in Interview with WHO assistant director general Bruce Aylward by Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK, where he seemed to avoid questions about Taiwan, blaming internet connection problems.
In a statement, WHO said that “questions about Taiwan’s membership in WHO depend on WHO Member States, not WHO staff.”
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, said that all parties clearly understood “that WHO members must become a sovereign country.”
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“There is no problem with Taiwan’s participation in relevant WHO events and obtaining information about public health emergencies, including this pandemic,” he said, contrary to the island’s own government. “We hope (the US and Taiwan) stop their efforts to engage in political manipulation under the pretext of a pandemic.”
A WHO spokesman told CNN that “some people confuse the WHO global public health technical mandate, with countries’ mandates to determine WHO membership.”
“Every year, WHO and Taiwan authorities and experts interact on vital public health and scientific issues, in accordance with established regulations. During the current Covid-19 pandemic, there were regular interactions too, “they said in an email. “Taiwan’s caseload is relatively low on the population. We continue to follow developments carefully. WHO is taking lessons from all fields, including Taiwan’s health authorities. “
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