Support Intelligent, In-Depth, Trustworthy Journalism.
As the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, Taiwan seems to have it under control. The island is only 80 miles off the coast of mainland China and very near to where the virus originated; plus there were many daily flights to it from Wuhan. But Taiwan has only 329 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and only five people have died from it. Nick Schifrin reports on this COVID-19 success story.
We look now at a COVID-19 success story.
Taiwan is just off the coast of mainland China. Millions travel between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland.
Johns Hopkins University had predicted Taiwan would have the second most COVID-19 cases in the world. But, today, there are 80 countries and territories with more than Taiwan's 329 cases.
Nick Schifrin follows a Taiwanese woman going home to figure out how they did it.
I am currently at the Gatwick Airport in London.
When 28-year-old Anna Lee left her boyfriend to fly home to Taiwan last week, she took no chances.
Why are you wearing the mask and gloves and goggles?
I'm trying to avoid any contact to air.
Lee didn't feel safe in Britain, where the airports are empty and the prime minister was criticized for a slow initial response.
If he is not even helping his own citizens, why would he help a foreigner like me? I thought, all right, I would go back to Taiwan for now. Everyone is very careful.
So careful, Lee found fellow Taiwanese Jason Yang waiting for his flight to Taipei in a body suit bought off eBay.
Man (through translator):
I believe that, in England, it's already lost control. And if I go back to Taiwan, I will be taken care of.
Taiwan is only 80 miles off the coast of mainland China. When Johns Hopkins modeled COVID-19, it predicted Taiwan would have the second highest number of cases.
That prediction didn't become reality. Taiwan has succeeded at containing COVID-19 starting at arrival.
we are getting off the plane.
Lee Skyped with us during her hour-long journey through the Taipei Airport. The first step Taiwan took was identifying possible cases.
They gave me this form to fill out my temperature in the next 14 days.
Lee told authorities she'd had a cough in the last two weeks, so security escorted her to secondary screening.
She had her temperature taken, like this woman, and she filled out forms consenting to new regulations and providing recent medical history.
My temperature that they just took, and it was asking what symptoms I had, and if I went to doctor.
And she got a COVID-19 test at the airport. Taiwan uploads these results into its national health care database to create a kind of coronavirus database that everyone has to enroll in.
We have to register first online. They will send me a text message. I have to show them the text message before we can pass here.
But that's where government tracking begins. After her bags are disinfected, her ride home is in a government-provided taxi by herself. The three-hour drive costs 80 bucks.
Now I cannot take any public transportation, so I had to use this contract taxi.
Lee headed home, knowing the government would stay in touch during a mandatory two-week quarantine.
Welcome to my humble house.
The government has also stayed in touch with Micky Du, who arrived from Australia on March 22.
Well, the first day, they immediately phoned me, almost within the hour that I go home, OK?
And there were actually several text messages. When I first arrived home, there were like three or four text messages. "Welcome back to Taiwan. This is the CDC. We're just checking to see if you're OK."
Micky's girlfriend recorded him in his apartment. Everyone who arrives in Taiwan today is tracked by cell phone to make sure they stay at home. Taiwan's Center for Disease Control tries to make 14-day quarantines easy.
She asked me whether or not I lived at this address. And, yes, sure, that is my address.
And I said, "When are you going to be here?"
She said, "I'm going to be there in five minutes."
I'm like, oh, OK. And no (EXPLETIVE DELETED) they showed up in four minutes.
They were, like, outside. So she just gave me a packet of masks, and there were 14 masks in the packet exactly.
Taiwan was able to take all of these steps because it learned lessons the hard way.
The SARS outbreak is a wakeup call for Taiwan. And we learn a lot from the SARS outbreak.
Dr. Steve Kuo is the former head of Taiwan's CDC, and led the SARS task force in 2003, when the SARS epidemic made hundreds of Taiwanese sick and killed more than 70, the third highest tally in the world.
The very next year, authorities prepared for the next crisis. That preparation allowed Taiwan's CDC to detect the COVID-19 threat before the Chinese government announced it.
We pick up the signal that there is some strange outbreak in the Wuhan areas at the end of the last year from social media networks.
We decided, and we did send two medical doctors to Wuhan from Taiwan CDC to get a better understanding of what happened there, OK? And then five days later, on January 20, the government decided immediately to set up and activate the central command centers.
That centralized command center launched border restrictions before almost anyone else, set local quarantine rules, and turned to technology.
One phone app allows Taiwan residents to find stores with masks in stock. Another app provides information on all of those who are COVID-19 positive, where they have been, and their case history. And the government made sure it had enough medical equipment.
After the SARS outbreak, actually, we have the law to require hospitals to have a stockpile for all medical supplies for 30 days for the hospitals.
Another reason Taiwan acted so early, they didn't trust either the Chinese government or the head of the World Health Organization, who, in January, praised China's response, says Bill Stanton, the former top U.S. diplomat in Taipei.
He was just defending the Chinese position and echoing what they had to say. And it made the Taiwanese even more suspicious to what the Chinese were doing for that reason.
China doesn't allow Taiwan into the WHO, and that's really stupid, because Taiwan is one of the main countries in the world that has expertise on international health issues.
For Anna Lee, that expertise translates into trust in her government.
I feel like, even if there is something wrong with my body, I will be taken care of, which is quite promising. And I'm quite happy with how the government take it very seriously. That's why we keep the cases very low.
Which means, for Anna Lee and many Taiwanese who are quarantined today, there's no place like home.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.
Today, Taiwan announced that it would donate 10 million masks to medical workers around the world, two million to the U.S.
Watch the Full Episode
Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
Support Provided By:
Support PBS NewsHour:
Subscribe to Here’s the Deal, our politics newsletter for analysis you won’t find anywhere else.
Thank you. Please check your inbox to confirm.