Against COVID-19, Taiwan has more hospitals than convenience stores

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 24 2020 10:09 PM

Against COVID-19, Taiwan has more hospitals than convenience stores 1
People wears a face mask to protect themselves from coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in front of Grand Hotel that use hotel room lights to celebrate zero confirmed cases in Taipei, Taiwan, April 16, 2020. Ann Wang, Reuters

MANILA—In tech-savvy Taiwan, people under home quarantine are monitored using a government-mandated smart tracking system that sets off an alert if anyone steps out.

Twice daily, village chiefs check on them by phone to know if anyone develops symptoms of COVID-19 and needs additional medical care.

It’s one of the creative measures that have allowed the self-governed island to contain the new coronavirus early on, while cases soared in neighboring China and the Philippines down south.

“If the Philippine government needs this kind of professional knowledge, I guess our government will be willing to share with you how to apply this kind of device,” Tai-Chu Chou, spokesman of the Taipei city government, told an online forum.

Such technology raises privacy issues even during a pandemic where government response is expected to be balanced with ensuring individual rights.

Part of the success of the tracking system in Taiwan was because “people trust the government” not to misuse it, said Chou.

Taiwan’s success story is attributed to its “act early, act swiftly” approach, which “deviated” from a World Health Organization (WHO) position against travel bans.


Instead, Taiwan began screening arriving passengers from Wuhan, China as early as Dec. 31, 2019, then banned Chinese visitors by early February.

As of Friday, Taiwan has only 6 deaths out of 428 infected patients, more than half of whom have recovered.

China has 4,642 deaths among 84,302 confirmed cases. The Philippine death toll is at 477 while cases rose to 7,192.

Taiwan has earned praise for its pandemic response despite being “left out” of the WHO, a “frustrating” situation given the island’s impressive health system, which is among the best in the world, said Chou.

The global health body declared a coronavirus pandemic “too late” and “reduced the time for the whole world to react,” he said.

Taiwan has around 20,000 hospitals and clinics, which outnumber convenience stores by more than half, he said, adding that an average check-up costs only $5.


In dealing with the pandemic, Chou cautioned governments against “excessing mobilization” of resources and instead prepare for a “long-term war.”

“We should not finish all of our bullets in the first phase because more enemies maybe on their way,” he said.

Early investment enabled Taiwan, with private sector help, to produce 17 million masks daily in what is now hailed as its “mask miracle.”

Just as important is to keep the economy running while imposing strict regulations on personal hygiene and physical distancing to go with relief measures, he said.

Much of Taiwan’s success is built on lessons it learned from the SARS outbreak in 2003.

But the new coronavirus is a “different animal,” said Dr. Mei-Shang Ho, an infectious diseases specialist and a member of Taiwan’s pandemic response task force.

“We have to think differently,” she said. “We have to be prepared for a long-lasting pandemic.”