Sam Wambugu: Technology tops in Taiwan’s Covid-19 fight

As countries race against the clock to contain Covid-19, Taiwan’s pandemic prevention playbook is, by many indicators, a gold standard.

Despite its proximity to the Covid-19 epicentre in the city of Wuhan, China, the 23 million-people country has so far recorded less than 10 deaths. Its neigbours— China, South Korea and Japan — have suffered Covid-19 deaths in droves.

Of the 100-plus countries affected by the pandemic, Taiwan has the lowest number of confirmed cases per capita — around two cases in 1 million people — a big success for a country that has endured decades of hostile relations with China.

Multifaceted efforts

China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province, which it has vowed to retake by force if necessary. Taiwan’s leaders, on the other hand, argue that it is a sovereign state.

Taiwan’s Covid-19 triumph is not by a stroke of luck. It is hinged on a sustained, multifaceted efforts steered by strong leadership. On December 31, when China notified the World Health Organisation that it had seen several cases of strange pneumonia, Taiwan’s swung into action immediately ordering health screening of passengers arriving from Wuhan.

The country also started to test all her people returning from China, identifying those infected, tracing their contacts and isolating everyone suspected to have Covid-19.

Regardless of whether they have or have no symptoms, passengers arriving from countries that have reported Covid-19 cases are put on mandatory 14 days quarantine.

Quarantined people must keep their phones with them because the government uses them to track their movements — those who claim not to have a phone are given one.

Quarantine centres

Local government officials near quarantine centres telephone those quarantined at least twice daily to check on their health and ascertain that they have not sneaked out of the isolation zone.

The food at the quarantine centres is free-of-charge, just as testing, treatment and facemasks for all Taiwanese. Individuals who flout quarantine measures are slapped with hefty fines.

Taiwan turned to technology to turbocharge its pandemic prevention efforts. The health officials use infrared thermal imaging scanning at the airports to take the temperature of all arriving passengers.

Contact information of all arriving passengers is collected at the airport and health workers can access it when they need additional details of patients who recently entered the country.

Before sending kids to school, parents take their children’s temperature and report it to school authorities daily.

At workplaces, employers take the temperature of their staff. Hand sanitiser dispensers are a common fixture at strategic public places for use.

Wearing facemasks is part of the Taiwanese culture; asking them to wear them to prevent Covid-19 is akin to preaching to the converted.

Here is my point: Taiwan’s pandemic-prevention measures present a case study for the world. Its results are evident; whereas the world economy is on a downward trend, Taiwan’s economy is ticking upwards, a testament that good health makes economic sense.

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