The country confirmed its first case of the coronavirus as early as Jan. 21. From there on out, the country's response to the coronavirus has proven to be one of the world's most effective. For a country with a population of around 23 million, it only has 554 confirmed cases, and only 55 of those cases were local transmissions.
Taiwan's record-breaking achievement comes at a time when nations like France and Germany are imposing new coronavirus lockdowns on their populace, and the number of recorded COVID-19 cases in the United States soars past 88,000 per day. For comparison, Florida, which has a population of around 21 million, identified 4,188 new cases on Wednesday alone – over seven times the number of total cases in Taiwan.
The island nation was able to do all of this despite being essentially blacklisted by and not receiving any support from the World Health Organization. (Related: World Health Organization (WHO) forced to release statement after awkward Taiwan interview.)
As soon as Taiwan confirmed its first few COVID-19 cases -- before China even started locking down Wuhan -- it immediately closed the country's borders. Most non-residents were barred from entering the country, and these strict border regulations have been in place ever since.
Anybody who is allowed entry into the country has to undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine. They have to inform officials where they will be staying and what phone number they will be using. Local health officials are tasked with either calling them or visiting them twice a day to verify the state of their health and if they broke quarantine. Anybody who does break their mandatory quarantine gets slapped with a hefty fine of one million New Taiwan dollars (around $35,000).
The government also acted quickly to turn itself into the primary distributor of face masks for the country. Taiwan stockpiled all of its domestically produced face masks and temporarily banned its export. Within just four months, companies manufacturing face masks were able to substantially increase production from two million to 20 million units per day. This allowed the government to ration face masks to every person on the island nation.
The wearing of face masks was made mandatory in government buildings, medical facilities and inside public transportation. Everywhere else, it was strongly recommended, but no mandates were enforced.
The country also established a very efficient contact tracing program. On average, contact tracers are able to identify between 20 to 30 contacts for each confirmed case. In one instance, when the hostess of a night club in Taipei City contracted COVID-19, contact tracers were able to discover over 150 people who came into contact with her. Each person was contacted and mandated to self-isolate for 14 days, even if they initially test negative for the coronavirus.
While the Taiwanese government has never instituted any sweeping lockdown for its entire population, it has ordered about 340,000 people to self-isolate in their homes because of potential or confirmed exposure to the virus. Fewer than 1,000 people have been fined for breaking quarantine, which means that 99.7 percent of the people ordered to self-isolate have complied with the rules.
“We sacrificed the 14 days of 340,000 people in exchange for normal lives for the other 23 million,” said Chen Chien-jen, a world-renowned epidemiologist and Taiwan's vice president during the first five months of the country's outbreak. Chen was instrumental in crafting the country's pandemic policy.
Finally, none of this would be possible if the country wasn't able to effectively communicate its current coronavirus situation to the general public. Government health officials held press conferences daily, which were shown live by multiple television stations and reported on in full detail the next day by newspapers.
It should be noted that Taiwan isn't going into this pandemic blind. They are coming into it recognizing their experiences with previous epidemics, notably the SARS outbreak of the early 2000s, which caught the country unaware, taking the lives of at least 73 people and giving it the world's third-highest infection rate.
Because of this, the island nation's residents are fully aware of the habits they need to adopt in order to fight off diseases, such as regular hand washing and the wearing of face masks in crowded places.
Thanks to its success in handling the coronavirus outbreak in their country, Taiwan posted the fastest growth rate among every other developed economy in the world. The island nation reported a 3.3 percent jump in gross domestic product in the third quarter, the fastest the GDP has ever grown per quarter in two years. This far surpasses the government's forecast of a milder two percent rise.
A lot of the growth is being pushed by increased exports, which rose by 3.5 percent. This growth is being driven by the stronger demand for wireless internet hardware, work-from-home and remote-learning equipment such as personal computers and laptops, video streaming gear and other electronic hardware.
The Taiwanese Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) believes that the strong third-quarter growth might boost the country's full-year growth to 1.9 percent, up from the previous forecast of 1.56 percent.
According to the DGBAS, a lot of the growth is also being driven domestically. Most citizens are currently barred from traveling abroad. This, the agency argues, has spurred them on to increase their domestic consumption.
“In combination with the government's stimulus measures, this helped narrow the contraction in private consumption,” said the agency in a report.
While it's important to recognize and celebrate Taiwan's successes, the country understands that it isn't out of the woods just yet. In the past two weeks alone, the country imported more than 20 cases from neighbors like Indonesia and the Philippines and major trading partners like the United States.
They are observing what happened to countries like Japan and Singapore, places that initially fought off the virus very well but are experiencing renewed spikes in cases. This is helping Taiwanese officials understand that they need to keep their guard up if they want to prevent their country from experiencing the same fate.
Local media outlets have also been covering stories of people leaving Taiwan testing positive for COVID-19 immediately upon arriving at the country of their destination, raising questions regarding the effectiveness of their coronavirus tests, and if the country really is as free of coronavirus as it claims to be.
Learn more about how some countries, like Taiwan, are successfully fighting back against the coronavirus pandemic without resorting to extreme measures such as lengthy and overly-restrictive lockdowns by reading the latest articles at Pandemic.news.