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Taiwan’s aggressive efforts are paying off in fight against COVID-19

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.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    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.

  • Anna Lee:

    I am currently at the Gatwick Airport in London.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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?

  • Anna Lee:

    I'm trying to avoid any contact to air.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Lee didn't feel safe in Britain, where the airports are empty and the prime minister was criticized for a slow initial response.

  • Anna Lee:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Anna Lee:

    we are getting off the plane.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Lee Skyped with us during her hour-long journey through the Taipei Airport. The first step Taiwan took was identifying possible cases.

  • Anna Lee:

    They gave me this form to fill out my temperature in the next 14 days.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Anna Lee:

    My temperature that they just took, and it was asking what symptoms I had, and if I went to doctor.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Anna Lee:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Anna Lee:

    Now I cannot take any public transportation, so I had to use this contract taxi.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Lee headed home, knowing the government would stay in touch during a mandatory two-week quarantine.

  • Micky Du:

    Welcome to my humble house.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The government has also stayed in touch with Micky Du, who arrived from Australia on March 22.

  • Micky Du:

    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."

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Micky Du:

    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.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Micky Du:

    They were, like, outside. So she just gave me a packet of masks, and there were 14 masks in the packet exactly.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Taiwan was able to take all of these steps because it learned lessons the hard way.

  • Steve Kuo:

    The SARS outbreak is a wakeup call for Taiwan. And we learn a lot from the SARS outbreak.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Steve Kuo:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Steve Kuo:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • William Stanton:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For Anna Lee, that expertise translates into trust in her government.

  • Anna Lee:

    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.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    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.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, Taiwan announced that it would donate 10 million masks to medical workers around the world, two million to the U.S.

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