With nearly 24 million people, Taiwan is a small island just a hundred kilometers from China. This country always had regular flights to and from Wuhan, where the Coronavirus originated. Yet this country only had 443 Covid-19 cases until now. Of this number, just 7 Taiwanese people died from the Coronavirus. In this article we take a look at how Taiwan figured out to manage this pandemic and what role did technology had in it.
How did this happen? First, it responded swiftly: Taiwanese doctors toured Wuhan later last year, as the chinese govt sought to block news of a novel respiratory disorder.
By 1 January, specialists from Taiwan were boarding planes from Wuhan to check the symptoms of passengers. Shutdown, quarantines and mass purchase of safety equipment occurred before even European countries knew what was happening.
New tech — medical and otherwise — has taken centre stage. A smartphone surveillance system of 55,000 residents, identified as a “digital fence,” monitored potential COVID-19 carriers. In one particular instance, police were deployed to a family’s home whose phone battery had died for 15 minutes. Anyone captured trying to break their telephone-enforced restrictions risked a $33,000 fine to pay.
Liang-Gee Chen, the Taiwanese Minister of Science and Tech said at a Taipei Incubator Techstars Branch Forum that: “We were really assertive and very delicate about the sources of the virus.” Techstars is one of several start-up-focused Taiwanese companies that have expanded in recent times, as the country moves from large, traditional firms such as Foxconn, Acer and Asus to smaller, nimble innovative companies. Taiwan’s startups raised $65 million last October — mostly at the initial stages — compared to $49 million in 2018.
The industrial history of the so-called “Asian Tiger” country enabled it to create more than 60 manufacturing plants for protective face masks, which was very important in combating contagion. Some still claim that Taiwan has the potential to manufacture as much as 10 m masks per day.
Taiwan’s stockpile is so massive that it’s become a key supplier of masks to Europe and the United States, where the responses to the Coronavirus crisis have been much slower, leading to catastrophic casualties and economic stability. Latest stats demonstrates a 10.41 per cent increase in Taiwanese manufacturing output in the last quarter. This is partially attributed to a recession across China’s Taiwan Strait, whose industrial sector, declared by the National Statistics Bureau, was only back on track this March.
Taiwan’s vice president, Chen Chien-jen, is an epidemiologist who worked as minister of health during the SARS epidemic in 2002-2004. Public communication then was powerful enough so that the residents of Taiwan are very well-versed in the restraint needed to keep their country safe this year.
“After SARS they recognised soon that you will need an educated populace in a democracy,” Dr Jason Wang of Stanford University’s Centre for Policy, Outcomes and Prevention informed Democracy Now! “Government must have measures so civilians must cooperate with them and support the government. This is a joint effort, then.
Even while foreign media are coosing about Taiwan’s reaction to the outbreak, the country’s software industry is only growing up locally. Medigen Vaccine Biologics Corp. linked up with the US National Institutes of Health in February to create a COVID-19 vaccine – one of more than 70 efforts around the world.
The tech and science ministry of Taiwan debuted a start-up project for disease control earlier in the month, focused on creating solutions to this public health issue. Innovations included novel antiseptic spray, air conditioning for contagion prevention and thermometers for quick-fire testing.
Programs such as these point to a tech sector that is on the surge while still in the shadows of neighbours such as Hong Kong, Singapore and China. A global slowdown in the economy could disrupt its industry of electronics manufaturing, which is bedrock of the national economy. But in its answer to Coronavirus, Taiwan has demonstrated how solid public policy, strong industry and technology will join hands to save lives.