In the year 2002, another type of coronavirus that was found to have originated in China – coined the term ‘SARS-cov’ (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) – affected over 8000 people in 26 countries and claimed nearly 800 lives, the majority of which came from Taiwan. With the devastating effects of what is known today as COVIDS-19’s mother virus, it comes as no surprise that Taiwan saw the coronavirus coming earlier than most and took the necessary precautions to protect the Island before things got bad.
According to Dr Lo Yin-Chun, the deputy director general of Taiwans’ Centres for Disease Control (CDC), colleagues of his detected social media posts about a strange pneumonia outbreak in Wuhan, China. While the original posts in China were removed, Taiwan did receive a stream of screenshots on their PTT Bulletin Board System and this raised some serious concerns. While not much information was given by China about what was happening, speculation arose from theron that this could be a recurrence of the SARS-cov pandemic of 2003. On the very day that he received the call, 31 of December 2019, Dr Lo took quick precaution to protect the Island. Firstly he sent an email to WHO asking for more information about this mysterious pneumonia, then he instructed that the Island begin initiating screening tests for all flights arriving from Wuhan.
On the 13th of January, health experts from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau travelled to Wuhan in order to further investigate the virus closely. After discovering a family that was affected, with both the husband and wife testing positive, they realised that there was a possibility of human-to-human transmission (being as the wife was handi-capped and could not have travelled to the marketplace where the virus is said to have originated.) Upon the travellers’ return to their respective countries, Taiwan quickly implemented safety procedures through its Central Epidemic Command Centre (CECC) and the whole island was locked safely inside.
The first COVID-19 case was found in Taiwan on the 21st of January, after this discovery more precautions were taken. By March 21st Taiwan had started quarantining inbound travellers coming from known affected countries for 14 days, all civilians were banned from overseas travel until July and the airports conducted regular testing on all airplane commuters before dismounting the aircrafts. Taiwan was expected to have one of the highest COVID-19 cases in the world, being as it was only 100 miles away from the Chinese mainlands, yet the small island with a significantly large population has recorded less than 500 cases and only 6 deaths to date.
Taiwan responded to what was coming earlier than any other country, not relying entirely on information from China or the WHO to start taking precautions (a result of their political differences, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise). Private sectors in Taiwan have been able to continue with business and although they are taking precautions, the Island has been able to refrain from implementing heavy-handed social distancing rules. On the 25th of March a cancellation of mass gatherings was recommended by CECC, they also collected all the necessary data to track the spread of the virus and instructed those affected to self-isolate until they started experiencing symptoms, only then would they be taken in and hospitalised.
While there has been a slight economic slowdown, Taiwan seems to be doing quite well overall. Schools are open, borders are controlled, health is prioritised thanks to the Deputy director generals’ foresight. If once bitten, twice shy was a country, Taiwan would be it – SARS-cov wretched havoc on the nation but not this time, they have learned from the past, so what can we learn from them?
To name a few:
- History is the best teacher, when a threat arises, it is better to take precaution before it faces you directly. A wise man once said that there is nothing new under the sun, it is important to look at what has befallen society, technology, the economy and the health industry in the past. Only then will you have the foresight necessary to prepare for what is coming.
- Taiwan has a bulletin board system known as the PTT – this is the island’s forum for public discussion and advice on many topics, often given anonymously. The platform was designed by a group of students at National Taiwan University in 1995, it has a dated appearance and therefore has been severely estimated by the Chinese media savvy population but it is one of the most popular online forums in Taiwan and played a good hand in saving the nation. The PTT is a good lesson in the importance of selflessly sharing knowledge and information, this will help African nations’ boost each other and themselves economically, socially and medically. With the tech industry booming as much as it is, this should be a very easy undertaking for our continent.
- The Taiwaneze tech economy is booming as the demand from China, Europe and the USA has increased. This is an area that could save the African economies, before COVID-19 Africa was the hotspot for emerging technologies, if we can focus on this and work patiently and diligently through the epidemic, there might be hope for us yet.
What else can we learn from COVID-19? What else can we learn from Taiwan? What can we learn about ourselves?