Taiwan should have seen the second-largest outbreak of covid-19 in the world, according to an analysis published in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. The island is just 81 miles off the coast of China, had 2.7 million visitors from the mainland last year and has about 1.25 million citizens who either reside in or work in China. Yet Taiwan has seen only six people die of covid-19 out of a total of just 393 confirmed cases. Even more amazing, 338 of those cases were individuals infected abroad. In other words, Taiwan has seen just 55 local infections, which means it has effectively eliminated community transmission. Earlier this week, the government reported zero new covid-19 cases in Taiwan.
What is most impressive is that Taiwan has done all this without ordering its population to shelter in place or shutting down schools, restaurants, stores and other businesses. As a result, Taiwan’s economy is not experiencing the same economic damage as countries under lockdown.
So how did Taiwan succeed where Beijing failed? According to the JAMA study, Taiwan took rapid and specific actions to identify and isolate those who either had the virus or came into contact with those who did.
First, Taiwan acted fast. On Dec. 31, while Beijing was still denying the virus was capable of human transmission, Taiwanese officials began boarding planes arriving from Wuhan to identify and isolate passengers with fever or pneumonia before they could deplane. On Jan. 5, they denied entry to any individual who had traveled to Wuhan in the past 14 days and had a fever or respiratory symptoms. On Jan. 30, the government expanded its surveillance system to cover all travelers from China, Hong Kong and Macao. On Feb. 6, all international cruise ships were banned. On Feb. 14, an entry quarantine system was implemented that required all travelers to complete electronic health declarations. Anyone identified as high risk was placed under 14-day home quarantine and monitored electronically through their mobile phones.
Second, the government acted with complete transparency. Taiwan’s vice president, who happens to be an epidemiologist, delivered regular press briefings and public service announcements updating people on the mitigation efforts. After the Diamond Princess — the cruise ship that became a hotbed of covid-19 cases — docked near Taipei, the government published a list of 50 locations where passengers who disembarked had visited so those who had contact with them could self-quarantine. The government set up a coronavirus hotline and proactively sought out those with respiratory symptoms. Taiwanese officials also set price limits to prevent the hoarding of masks, and mobilized Taiwan’s military to help increase mask production from 2 million to 15 million a day.
Contrast this with the actions of the Chinese Communists, who punished doctors who tried to sound the alarm about the disease, ordered them to destroy virus samples and lied to the world. Indeed, Beijing’s thuggish behavior may inadvertently have helped save Taiwan: As part of its intimidation campaign before Taiwan’s Jan. 11 presidential election, Beijing banned Chinese tourism to Taiwan — which reduced the number of Chinese tourists at the very moment the virus was spreading rapidly in Wuhan.
But those efforts to isolate Taiwan may have hurt us. On Dec. 31, Taiwan tried to warn the World Health Organization (WHO) about the danger the virus posed. But because China will not let Taiwan join international organizations, its warnings were ignored as the WHO continued to parrot Beijing’s lies. Had Taiwan been a member, we would have learned several critical weeks sooner about the coming danger.
This pandemic has provided us with a clinical trial in the healing power of freedom. We can now compare two control groups in the form of two Chinese societies — one free and democratic, the other under the grip of a brutal totalitarian dictatorship. Totalitarian China has not only been ravaged by the virus but has also spread the contagion to our shores. Free China has defeated it. The lesson is clear: Covid-19 grew in the cesspool of Chinese Communist tyranny. The antidote to the coronavirus is freedom.