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New Report Unpacks Taiwan's Covid-19 Success

Taiwan’s relative success against Covid-19 makes it a great candidate for connections with New Zealand after lockdown, according to a new report from The New Zealand Initiative.

As New Zealand prepares to downgrade to Alert Level 2, the Government will be keen to find other Covid-free countries to help restart the Kiwi economy.

Last week, deputy prime minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters publicly supported Taiwan’s bid to be accepted into the World Health Organisation. Taiwan’s foreign ministry has called on the WHO to “cast off” China’s control of it during the Covid-19 pandemic, complaining of barriers in handling the virus within its own borders.

Earlier this month, the New Zealand Government also suggested including Taiwan in its proposed “travel bubble” along with Australia. The system would mean travelers moving between the three countries would not need to go into 14-day quarantine on arrival.

Despite being geographically close to the initial coronavirus outbreak in China, the Initiative’s research assistant Leonard Hong said Taiwan may soon be relatively Covid-19 free.

“Taiwan is one of the few countries to ‘flatten the curve’ of Covid-19 without a national lockdown. New Zealand has much to learn from the East Asian state as it is moving into Alert Level 2.”

Hong points to Taiwan’s previous experience with the SARS outbreak in 2003 as partially responsible for its effective containment this time around.

Although SARS didn’t cripple Taiwan’s citizens or economy (of the 131,000 quarantined in 2003, only 346 were confirmed as SARS cases) the outbreak spooked the Taiwan Government into building better health infrastructure to prepare for future pandemics.

It invested heavily in new patient screening technology, checks at airports, training for front-line medical staff and even altered its legislation to allow for faster crisis response.

“Its early border restrictions meant Taiwan has maintained an open domestic economy throughout this new coronavirus crisis."

“Rather than mass testing, Taiwan focused on people moving through its ports of entry, beginning well before the first case was spotted on the island. Indeed, it began targeted checks on December 31 last year,” Hong said.

He also highlights that Taiwan’s vice president is a trained epidemiologist and served as Minister of Health during the 2003 SARS epidemic, which helps explain why the nation could enact an effective response to Covid-19.

Like peer East Asian states Singapore and South Korea, Taiwan has created a robust contact tracing and monitoring system to deal with the coronavirus so it can understand where infected people are located, and when they breach quarantine. It has proposed major fines for when they do.

As of May 10, Taiwan only has 73 active cases and 366 recoveries from a total of 438 confirmed cases. It also has a low case fatality rate (CFR) of 1.3% or 1.36% deaths. Italy, Spain, the US and New Zealand have CFRs of 13.9%, 10.1%, 5.9% and 1.4%, respectively.

“The lack of dedicated epidemiological infrastructure in New Zealand prior to the Covid-19 outbreak put this country on the backfoot, and the low absolute numbers of cases here may have been what saved New Zealand’s healthcare system from being overloaded."

“Taiwan avoided major healthcare and economic pain for another reason: it was prepared. New Zealand should look closely at how the East Asian country achieved this and perhaps adopt some of its best ideas,” Hong said.

Read more:
Lessons from Abroad: Taiwan's Covid-19 Containment Model is available here.

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