A champion against covid-19 is shut out of the body that fights the pandemic
Date: Mar 26th 2020
Spare a moment and admire Taiwan. Its handling of the new coronavirus pandemic has so far saved many, many lives. The figures tell the story. A country of 24m, it has far fewer infections than its neighbours: just 235 as of March 25th, with only two deaths.
Taiwanese officials seem to know what they are doing. The vice-president, Chen Chien-jen, is a noted epidemiologist and former health minister. It helps that the country has had a system in place to handle such crises, since the sars epidemic of 2003, which led to 73 deaths. Back then, it was not clear who was in charge. So in 2004 the government set up the Central Epidemic Command Centre (cecc). Usually dormant, in an emergency its mandate is to work across government departments and commandeer the resources it needs. On January 20th President Tsai Ing-wen triggered the cecc and put the minister of health, Chen Shih-chung, in charge.
Its response was swift, and ranged from screening inbound air passengers to energetic testing and rationing face masks. A curious legacy of dictatorship under the Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, organised along Leninist lines, is Taiwan’s system of neighbourhood wardens. These have helped enforce quarantines and deliver food to those who cannot go out to get it.
If Taiwan shines at anything, it is it. National databases and big data have been put to use identifying those most at risk of infection. If that sounds like Big Brother, freedom-loving Taiwanese have widely accepted it for the common good. Meanwhile, the government is open and upfront about the progress of the outbreak. The media take the dissemination of information seriously. And a stiff fake-news law has helped shut down disinformation campaigns on social media originating from China, which are intended to sow mistrust of the government’s handling of the pandemic. If ordinary Taiwanese are broadly reassured, so is the economy. Business confidence has held up remarkably well. This is in striking contrast to the panic and uncertainty in Europe and America.