Taiwan has reached a record 200 days without any domestically transmitted cases of Covid-19, underlining its success in keeping the virus under control as cases rise across much of the world.
Taiwanese authorities acted early to halt the spread of the disease, brought in strict control measures, including two weeks of quarantine for anyone flying into the island, and poured resources into testing and tracing.
Checks on travellers arriving from Wuhan, where the epidemic started, were brought in on 31 December, as soon as health authorities there told the World Health Organization they were treating cases of viral pneumonia “of unknown origin”.
The island’s previous exposure to the Sars epidemic meant that preparations for a pandemic were extensive and up to date, and the government’s response was helped by having an epidemiologist as vice-president and an excellent public health system.
But its achievements were not inevitable. Extensive economic and cultural ties to mainland China, where the disease first emerged last year, and a large volume of travel, meant it was particularly vulnerable at the start of the epidemic.
Instead it has recorded 553 cases of Covid-19 and just seven deaths since the pandemic began, making it even more successful than other countries with an exemplary record for containing the disease, including New Zealand and Vietnam.
Globally, more than 44m cases have been reported and 1.1m deaths.
The country’s Center for Disease Control last reported a domestic case on 12 April. CDC officials thanked the public for playing a role in reaching the milestone, while urging people to continue to wear masks and wash their hands often.
Although Taiwan appears to have stopped domestic transmission, it continues to record new cases in people arriving from abroad. And questions remain as to whether it is truly free of coronavirus. Local media have been paying close attention to reports of people who tested positive after leaving the country.
Authorities received notice from Japanese and Thai health authorities on Wednesday that three people who had recently left the country tested positive.
Beijing has hailed its own response to the virus – now largely contained within China – as both a model for the world and testament to the strengths of its authoritarian system of governance.
Taiwan’s success is a reminder on China’s doorstep that democracies which took decisive action were also able to control the disease.
On 20 January the government formally initiated the Central Epidemic Command Center to coordinate its response between various departments and branches – before China had put Wuhan city into lockdown.
The importance of wearing masks was communicated early and effectively, and the government took over distribution, rationing supplies to ensure all the population could access masks and preventing panic buying or price gouging.
Border controls also began in January, with flights from Wuhan suspended in late January, and entry barred for Chinese nationals who resided in the city. Taiwan now has a 14-day quarantine for all arrivals, whether Taiwanese or foreign.