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Small Country, Big Action: Taiwan’s Unparalleled COVID Response

By Ayn Hatfield


Source: Atlantic Council


As the coronavirus continues to spread globally, each country’s individual response to the crisis has yielded a different quality of results. One of the countries that has had the most successful pandemic responses is Taiwan. The close proximity of the small country to the coast of China should have made Taiwan one of the most susceptible targets of the newfound virus. However, due to its proactive response, Taiwan has been able to continuously contain the disease and avoid the fate of many other countries. As of now, Taiwan has confirmed less than 400 cases and a total of 5 deaths.

Taiwan was able to accomplish such an impressive feat by learning a difficult lesson 17 years ago. In 2003, when the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus hit, Taiwan was wholly unprepared, resulting in over 180,000 cases and the third highest number of deaths in the world.

After the SARS outbreak ended, Taiwan formed the National Health Command Center (NHCC), a government agency intended to prepare proactive measures for battling emergency outbreak situations such as the current crisis. In January, when most of the world was underestimating the severity and spread of the newfound coronavirus, Taiwan saw the early warning signs and began taking drastic measures to ensure the safety of its citizens. Among these measures were banning travel to certain areas of China, easily accessible testing, and severe fines (up to 1,000,000 TWD which is about 32,900 USD) for violating the mandated two week quarantine for all returning travelers.

Although Taiwan has done a commendable job in responding to the virus, it has not been without its obstacles, primarily in its inability to become a member of the World Health Organization (WHO), due to geopolitical tensions. Taiwan is represented by Beijing, which considers Taiwan a part of China. However, Beijing has not established communication with Taiwan, leaving the small island nation to fend for itself. In January when the WHO publicly stated that they did not find evidence of person to person transmission of coronavirus, Taiwanese health officials contacted the organization notifying them that their own research suggested otherwise, but they never received a response. It is conceivable that if Taiwan’s efforts had been acknowledged earlier, the current trajectory of the virus could have been avoided.

Despite these issues, Taiwan has continued to thrive during this particularly difficult time. Many governments are taking notice of their successful response to the current pandemic, and are starting to emulate their courses of action.

Just this past week, the State Department released a statement saying “countries around the world can benefit from better understanding the ‘Taiwan Model,’ as well as the generous contributions and impressive expertise Taiwan — a vibrant democracy and force for good — brings to the global community.”

Tsai Ing-Wen, the president of Taiwan, has also pledged to donate 10,000,000 masks to the United States and Australia, while continuing the global message that “Taiwan can help, and Taiwan is helping”. Hopefully, as the members of WHO are learning to take action against the virus, those that govern around the world will learn a valuable lesson from Taiwan as well: that there is no place for politics when lives are at stake.

Ayn Hatfield is currently a first year graduate student studying international affairs at UC San Diego with a focus in East Asia, and is specifically interested in cross strait relations.

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