The resurgence and an unusually high fatality rate of COVID-19 in Taiwan shocked many for the past few months. As the outbreak finally began to abate recently, attention is turning to what went wrong, according to Bloomberg.
Despite Taiwan’s successful curb last year, the fatality rate still reached 5% overall since the first outbreak, which is the same as Italy and the U.K. at the beginning of 2020 when the world was yet unfamiliar with the disease.
Taiwan’s Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC, 中央流行疫情指揮中心) spokesperson Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥) explained that this was due to the virus wave in Taiwan hitting the largely unvaccinated elderly population, with 90% of deaths occurring in those aged 60 or older.
Furthermore, Bloomberg indicated that Taiwan’s death rate is much higher than some nearby places in Asia, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, which were ranked highly on quality of healthcare provision pre-pandemic, just like Taiwan in 2020.
Yet the pathogen tore through Taiwan this year, while the country was running short of vaccine supplies, an issue caused by the Taiwanese government making purchases later than others in the region, Bloomberg reported.
Lam Ching-choi (林正財), an adviser to the city’s leader of Hong Kong and a member of the government’s working group on vaccination, told Bloomberg that both Hong Kong and Taiwan implemented a similarly strict border and quarantine policy.
Yet Taiwan might not have done enough to ramp up testing capabilities, medical system readiness or vaccine supply, which the situation allowed at the time, Lam added.
The former head of the Taiwan Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 疾病管制署), Chang Hong-jen (張鴻仁), also pointed out that Taiwan’s medical care system is sustained on a tight budget to keep costs down, meaning that there was very little excess capacity when the virus spread rapidly.
“It’s all about money. The government needs to be willing to pay for the redundancy so that we can have spare capacity,” he said.
Bloomberg stressed that the crisis also presented the risk of some areas in Asia, including Taiwan, pursuing a “Covid Zero” strategy of trying to eliminate cases instead of treating the pathogen as endemic.
Now, Taiwan is asserting that its new coping mechanism will be to bring cases down to a manageably low level instead of aiming to stamp out infection entirely, Bloomberg wrote.
Luckily, Taiwan’s vaccination rate has been improving, supported by emergency deliveries of vaccines from the U.S. and Japan.
Only one new death was recorded in Taiwan over the past two days. According to government officials, the number of patients has dropped 60% in specialized hospitals’ intensive care units from a June peak as well.