U.S. could learn from Taiwan’s COVID-19 response measures: scholars

Jason Wang, an associate professor at Stanford University

WASHINGTON (CNA) — Scholars at Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) praised Taiwan’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak Tuesday, adding that the U.S. could learn from Taiwan’s response measures.

In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on March 3, co-authors Jason Wang (王智弘), Robert Brook and Chun Y. Ng said that “Taiwan is an example of how a society can respond quickly to a crisis and protect the interests of its citizens.”

Taiwanese officials began screening passengers on direct flights from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the disease, for symptoms before they could deplane as early as Dec. 31, the article said, with screening expanded the following week to include anyone who had recent history of travel to the city.

On Jan. 20, Taiwan activated the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) to coordinate efforts to contain the outbreak, which has since implemented at least 124 measures to prevent the spread of the disease, the article said.

These have included measures regarding border controls, case identification, quarantine, resource allocation, delivering information to the public, and extending school vacation closures, the article said.

The article, titled “Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan: Big Data Analytics, New Technology, and Proactive Testing” also highlighted Taiwan’s integrating patients’ travel histories into their national health insurance (NHI) cards, which has allowed hospitals and clinics easier access to this information.

Daily press briefings by the CECC and additional announcements by Vice President Chen Chien-jen (陳建仁), an epidemiologist by profession, has also educated the public about the disease, the article said.

“Through early recognition of the crisis, daily briefings to the public, and simple health messaging, the government was able to reassure the public by delivering timely, accurate and transparent information regarding the evolving epidemic,” the article concluded.

To date, Taiwan has 42 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with one fatality.

In an interview with CNA, Wang said that the U.S. should set up a central command center to address COVID-19 like Taiwan has done.

Wang, who is from Taiwan, is an associate professor of pediatrics at Stanford University.

According to Wang, the coronavirus task force headed by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is at the federal level, and has no jurisdiction at the state and local levels, which can result in disparities over how each state implements measures against the spread of the coronavirus.

Although he said that community spread of COVID-19 is almost certainly inevitable in the U.S., he believes that a central command center that can integrate state and local government communication channels would be effective in combating the spread of the disease.

His views were echoed by Brook, a professor of medicine at UCLA, in an interview published on the Stanford Health Policy’s website.

Taiwan got out ahead of the epidemic by setting up a command center to facilitate rapid communications, Brook said in the interview.

Brook also credited the government’s transparency in delivering information about the disease as “paramount to reducing public panic,” and said that Washington could learn a great deal from Taiwan’s so-far successful management of the virus.

Regarding the U.S., Brook said, “there needs to be a sharing of intelligence on a real-time basis among states and the federal government so that action is not delayed by going through formal channels.”

According to data compiled by John Hopkins University, the U.S. has recorded 159 cases of COVID-19 to date, including 49 individuals who were repatriated from Wuhan and the Princess Diamond Cruise Ship, where the coronavirus spread rapidly.

Eleven people have died in the U.S. from the disease.

Meanwhile, Voice of America published Wednesday an article titled “Why Taiwan Has Just 42 Coronavirus Cases while Neighbors Report Hundreds or Thousands,” which credits Taiwan’s quick response and past experience in combating SARS for its effective measures against COVID-19.

Taiwan’s number of confirmed cases (42), is significantly lower than those reported in neighboring countries like China (80,409), South Korea (6,088) and Japan (330), the article pointed out.

This could be chalked up to the government’s “more proactive” approach to the disease compared to those of other Asian countries, Legislator Lo Chih-cheng (羅致政) was quoted as saying.