Months before the coronavirus pandemic has spread to different countries in the world, two governments recorded four coronavirus infections within their territory on January 25, they were Australia and Taiwan.

Both countries have a similar-sized population of 24 million people, both are islands, both have strict controls over who crosses their borders and both have steady transport and trade links with mainland China. Ten weeks later, Australia has almost 5,000 confirmed cases while Taiwan has less than 400. This has led to people asking how Taiwan has kept the virus under control when other countries have failed.

Taiwan's coronavirus response

During the SARS outbreak of 2003, Taiwan was one of the countries that had the most cases, along with southern China and Hong Kong. More than 150,000 people were quarantined on the island and 181 people died.

Although SARS is now compared to the coronavirus pandemic, it sent shockwaves through Asia and gave us a glimpse of how people will respond to future outbreaks. This helped different parts of the region to react faster to the current coronavirus outbreak and take the danger more seriously than other countries, both at a societal level and governmental level, with border controls and the wearing of face masks becoming routine as early as January in many areas.

Taiwan is known to have a world-class health care system, with universal coverage. As news of the coronavirus began to emerge from Wuhan up to early January, officials at Taiwan's National Health Command Center of NHCC, moved quickly to respond to the potential threat, according to a recent report published in JAMA.

According to the co-author of the report, Jason Wang, a Taiwanese doctor and associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford Medicine, Taiwan quickly produced and implemented a list of at least 124 action items in the past five weeks to protect public health. The policies and actions go beyond border control because they recognized that it was not enough. While other countries were still debating whether to take action, Taiwan was already on the move.

Taiwanese officials also moved to quicken the domestic face-mask production to make sure that the local supply. They also rolled out islandwide testing for coronavirus, including retesting people who had previously unexplained pneumonia and announced new punishments for spreading false information about the virus.

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Pandemic politics

Taiwan's success in controlling the coronavirus spread has been overshadowed by the crisis in the U.S. and Europe, which also means that the lessons that should be learned to combat the virus has now passed.
It is still unclear why Western countries failed to follow Taiwan's lead two months ago when they had the chance. One factor that many observes have pointed out is that Taiwan, unlike other Western governments, is not a member of the World Health Organization or WHO. 

Although WHO argues that Taiwan's exclusion from the meetings of member states does not affect the sharing of health information and guidance, observers have claimed that it has had a negative effect both during the SARS epidemic and the current crisis.

According to Vice President Chen Chien-jen, a Johns Hopkins-trained epidemiologist, Taiwan wants to help by sending their doctors, researchers, and nurses and to share their knowledge and experience with countries that need it, but right now they are unable to.

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